City should borrow long-term to fix roads before they get worse

Stop being fixated on 'getting out of debt' when money is a tool that should be used

The speed limit of the section of Waterworks Road from Michigan Road to Lakeshore Road is being lowered to 60 km/hr from its current 80 km/hr as a safety measure.
The speed limit of the section of Waterworks Road from Michigan Road to Lakeshore Road is being lowered to 60 km/hr from its current 80 km/hr as a safety measure.

This is a message that won’t be received positively by many who read it. But they’re wrong. Provably wrong.

The issue in Sarnia is the state of the roads we travel on every day. As recently as the end of 2014, an estimated 25% of City roadways were in need of repair, according to a report to City Council. And that percentage has since increased, according to City Engineer Andre Morin.

According to Morin, the City “should” be spending $10 million a year to basically keep up with repair. This year it will spend $1.25 million.

And we keep kicking this particular can down the street.

Here’s the solution: borrow a significant portion of what it will take to “catch up” with road repair and structure that debt so that it makes the most sense for taxpayers. City Council, which will hear from Morin at a September 26 special priorities meeting on the “state of the infrastructure,” should ask for a plan that would give them options for a three, four and five-year plan to invest in a repair strategy that at least puts a dent in that backlog of road repairs.

The alternatives are, in this case, worse than doing what we’re doing now, which borders on malfeasance.

We know, or should at least, that the repairs that will ultimately be forced upon us will cost more than they will today.

So why does Council object to spending the money, even if it means raising taxes?

One is that there’s somehow a “stigma” against debt, which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re borrowing in order to reduce your costs in the short or even medium term. Remember, these roads are in need of repair today and when they fail (like Waterworks, which required a speed limit change just to avoid potential litigation), it will cost much more.

The other argument is that there are taxpayers who simply can’t afford another tax increase.

But the reality is that we live in a community that has a responsibility to invest in our infrastructure. And that means all of us. We have a collective responsibility to do so, which is factored in to the value of our homes (which is variable) and hence the taxes we pay.

To use an automotive analogy, don’t try to cheap out on a regular oil change only to complain when the engine fails and you have to spend thousands on repairs as a result.

We are there, folks. Go get the oil change.

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  • Opinionated3

    I Could not agree more!! However, our cost-challenged Mayor thinks we’re spending enough already on roads and that instead Sarnia should ape Windsor and build a theater in Centennial Park with no thought for its sustainability. As you say, there are an increasing number of roads in Sarnia that have now degenerated to the stage that they must now be completely rebuilt, at a higher cost than had they been repaired as the need first arose. There is no point in waiting any further for bankrupt higher levels of Government to provide major funding for this purpose. They’re are not going to do so. Council needs to cut costs now and redirect funds to repairing our roads.