Cost-Benefit of Infrastructure Development
By Marek Krasuski
Twenty years in the making, a substantial bypass in the City of Greater Sudbury will finally near completion by the end of this year. In fact construction crews and city officials can already drive the 11 kilometre new road from its eastern point at Barry Downe Road to its most westerly at College Boreal, providing a more direct route to smaller communities (still within city limits) west of Sudbury proper. The Maley Drive infrastructure will include extending the existing Maley Drive, a roundabout in front of College Boreal, an interchange at Notre Dame Avenue close to the Boreal roundabout, and another roundabout at Barry Downe Road at the eastern end of the highway.
The Maley Drive Extension has been a bone of contention for many years with naysayers complaining the cost is too prohibitive for the benefits it will yield. Proponents of the project disagree, citing the easing of traffic congestion on existing corridors and the redirection of big trucks onto the new corridor which currently slows down traffic, particularly during peak pre and post work hours.
The first 11 kilometre stretch from Falconbridge Highway to the College is projected to cost $80 million from inception to completion. Expenditures are to be divided equally between the three levels of government – Federal, Provincial, Municipal. Opposition to the project comes from several sources. There are complaints from the environmental community who deride the removal of countless trees and the displacement of the many creatures that used to inhabit them. Sensitive to the impact on the environment, authorities are doing their best to mitigate damage. For example, the highway will cross some marshes and a pond so as to preserve the natural habitats.
Residents in the neighbourhoods close to the highway extension, normally the beneficiaries of a tranquil environment thanks to the adjoining bush lands, will in a few months have to adjust to the flow of continuous traffic once the highway opens at the end of 2019. Sound berms will be installed to reduce noise levels. Still others complain that Development Charges will increase to developers for new subdivisions and malls in order to pay for capital costs such as libraries, waste treatment plants, etc. Some claim the development charges, which will be passed on to the homebuyer, will increase over $2,000 for a semi-detached home.
Proponents of the project cite the many advantages the Extension will provide. Fully half of ore mined in Ontario finds its way across Greater Sudbury’s road network. The Extension will relieve most of the stress from heavy ore trucks currently driving on city streets, namely Lasalle Blvd. and The Kingsway, parallel streets south of the new Bypass. Upon completion of the Extension commercial drivers will make their deliveries by skirting the north end of the city uninterrupted by city streets and traffic lights. Commuters, too, will save time and fuel getting to and from work. In addition, the Project is projected to save about 457,000 vehicle hours per year for passenger drivers and 50,800 vehicle hours for commercial trucks, accumulating savings of $11.1 million annually. Annual expenses, by contrast, are predicted to be $170,000 for maintenance and operating costs.
The Bypass will also relieve stress on the two existing corridors, Lasalle Blvd. and The Kingsway, saving costs on the wear and tear of those arteries and freeing up traffic as many vehicles will be diverted to the new Extension. According to a cost benefit analysis by the City of Greater Sudbury, the Extension will have a net economic value of $135 million to the year 2048.
The Extension is predicted to be a boom to the commercial transportation industry. City officials remarked that the mining sector will look favourably on Sudbury, a community already entrenched with a dominant mining presence, owing to the substantial infrastructure developments underway. Currently, slurry, ore and other heavy duty trucks have to take a circuitous, and often heavily congested, route from one mining site to another. The Extension will provide a more direct and faster way.
Last year crews began clearing a road corridor through the bush to build the main section of the road. The work schedule has been aggressive in order to complete the project on time. A big part of this undertaking was blasting out rocky hills and using loaders to transport the rock aggregate from demolition sites to other areas that need fill such as swampy areas. This phase took place under tight timelines in order to comply with laws protecting migrating birds. Clearing trees and blasting the earth below had to be competed between the months of October and April. As of last summer over one million tonnes had been blasted, hauled and spread out as rock bed.
To date the extension project is running a surplus, about $4 million. This is due largely to competitive bids from construction companies responsible for the blasting and building of the highway. Earthwork contracts have been very competitive for the northeastern Ontario market, resulting in lower than expected costs. Anticipated costs of utilities relocation have also come in under budget. These savings could accelerate the doubling of a section of the bypass on Maley Drive running from Barry Downe to Lansing Avenue. Otherwise, the four laning would be deferred to the second development phase.
Development has not been without its problems. In addition to arguments from detractors of the project, residents near construction sites have complained that rocks, some weighing as much as 40 pounds, have rained down into neighbouring backyards during blasting. No injuries were sustained, and corrective measures were to taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
With thousands of vehicles being removed from Lasalle Boulevard each day and rerouted onto the new Extension, the City is looking to transform the Lasalle corridor into a roadway suitable for other groups, making it a more pedestrian/cycling friendly roadway.
Development always comes at a price – to budgets, the environment, the residents who are directly affected. But by and large the overriding benefits make a compelling case for the Project’s feasibility. The Maley Drive Extension will reduce travel times and fuel consumption, saving Sudbury drivers 1,500,000 liters of fuel, according to City reports. The project will prevent over 3,500 tonnes of emissions each year, resulting in an impact equivalent to the planting of 90,000 tree seedlings over a 10 year period.☚