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Local Chambers of Commerce call for infrastructure investments

By Vanessa Stark [1]

BELLEVILLE – Local Chambers of Commerce have teamed up with their Ontario counterpart  [2] to ensure that provincial money being set aside for local infrastructure actually gets used.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has released a report [3] and is calling on the province to include key recommendations from it in the new Long-Term Infrastructure Plan, which is to be released this fall.

Prince Edward County, Quinte West and Belleville Chambers are all in support of the OCC’s recommendations.

Spending on infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public transit, has been stagnant since the 1970s, according to the report put out by the OCC.

“I think there was a lot of fiscal prudence around that time in terms of spending additional money on infrastructure and now we see the effects of that. There is this huge infrastructure gap that we have to address. It was a just really a product of the political, cultural and economic environment at the time that resulted in the ebbing of the infrastructure funding,” said Nina Todorova, the senior policy analyst for the OCC.

The price tag to upgrade the province’s aging infrastructure is estimated at $19 billion.

The OCC’s report makes eight recommendations. The overarching theme behind these recommendations is  accountability on how infrastructure dollars are being spent and making sure spending and building are transparent.

“We are not asking the government to spend more money then they have already allocated. We are just asking that they spend the money that they are putting aside that they have already identified that it gets streamlined and out into the hands of the municipalities and other public private partnerships. So that it can actually go forward and develop the projects that are needed and to make sure that those moneys are available to help municipalities,” said Suzanne Andrews, general manager of the Quinte West Chamber of Commerce.

According to Andrews, Ontario has set aside $13.6 billion to be spent between 2016 and 2018 but only $4.6 billion has actually been spent thus far.

“One of the important things is that when the governments allocate funds for infrastructure, that they actually spend it,” Andrews says.

A major point of concern for the Prince Edward County area, according to Emily Cowan, the executive director for the PEC chamber, is Highway 49 which connects the Lehigh Cement Company to Highway 401.

Highway 49 was in Ontario’s top 10 worst roads, according to a study done by the Canadian Automobile Association [4] and continues to degrade under constant wear from traffic and climate.

“Both the federal and provincial governments have been pretty slow at attacking the huge amount of infrastructure and roads that need to be fixed. They keep dedicating a lot of money to it, but when it comes down to making a plan and starting to do the work it’s really not happening. So we just sit here and everything sort of just feels like it’s crumbling around us,” Cowan says.