Climate-proof Ontario’s roads and transit now, or pay big later: warning to Premier Ford
It’s a case of pay now or pay more later when it comes to climate change, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office says in a new report that pictures a flooded Don Valley Parkway on its cover.
The cost of adapting Ontario’s roads, bridges, large culverts, subway lines, public transit rail lines and other transportation infrastructure to better withstand the extremes of rising temperatures and increasingly heavy rainfall over the rest of this century would cost an additional $1.4 billion to $2.9 billion extra every year, on average.
Those estimates do not include major projects on the drawing board but not yet built, such as the Ontario Line subway from the Science Centre to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, Highway 413 from Milton to Highway 400 and the Bradford Bypass from the 400 east to Highway 404.
“While these additional climate-related costs are significant, they are less expensive for provincial and municipal governments than not adapting over the long term,” says the 107-page report released by the watchdog agency Thursday.
“You can wait, but you know down the road it’s going to cost you more,” financial accountability officer Peter Weltman told a news conference.
The report warns that not preparing transportation networks — which keep people and the economy moving — for climate change hazards could result in disruptions such as road closures of the type seen when roads and bridges were washed out after severe storms in British Columbia last year.
When the Don Valley Parkway flooded in July 2013 after heavy rains, TTC and GO Transit lines were swamped, stranding riders and as well as motorists.
Some examples of adaptation methods include using asphalt binders for roads that can withstand higher temperatures to prevent buckling, larger culverts to cope with heavier rainfall, deeper foundations for bridges to make them less vulnerable to extreme rainfall and erosion, and better tie plates and anchors for rail transit lines that are better able to tolerate extreme heat, which causes rails to warp and forces trains to slow.
Officials from the accountability office said the “damage costs” of not acting proactively if carbon emissions remain high could total $322 billion by the end of the century — not including any impact from ice storms that were not considered in the report, which used computer modelling to predict financial outcomes.
While Environment Minister David Piccini’s office said “Ontario has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other province or territory,” opposition parties said Premier Doug Ford’s government needs a more comprehensive plan to fight climate change.
“If doing the right thing won’t get Ford to act, my hope is that money will,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner said, referring to the potentially higher costs of failing to prepare for more extreme weather.
Schreiner’s 2019 request for detailed studies on the costs of climate change prompted this report, another one on the impacts of heavy rainfall on storm and wastewater sewer lines, and one last year on the impact of heavy rain, extreme heat and freeze-thaw cycles on government buildings.
Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns accused Ford of an “anti-environment crusade” over plans for new highways.
“Mr. Ford is actually increasing the risk of flooding with his approach to public infrastructure, by allowing his developer buddies to pave over farmlands and wetlands,” he said. “The longer Ontario takes to get serious about the climate crisis, the more the province will pay for the consequences.”
Projections in the report show there are expected to be 34 days of above 30 C temperatures annually in the last three decades of the century, compared with an average of four days in the last three decades of the last century. And rainfall will rise to about 50 per cent higher.
The report notes that Ontario’s transportation infrastructure is valued at $330 billion, with the province’s 444 municipalities owning 82 per cent, and the provincial government 18 per cent.
This article was first reported by The Star