Sluggish Toronto-area commutes are hurting Ontario's economy big
Carol Wilding President & CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade
The global economy is on unstable footing. Declining value
in stock markets, currencies and commodities is having an impact around
the world. It's also putting Ontario's economic recovery at risk. Like
it or not, we're affected by events and decisions made elsewhere. These
are beyond our control.
What isn't beyond our control is the ability to take steps to keep the
Toronto region globally competitive. Ensuring that goods and services
flow smoothly across the region is one obvious support we could give our
economy. Gridlock is now costing our economy $6-billion a year in lost
productivity, and this loss is headed toward $15-billion annually.
Yet, while gridlock in the Toronto region continues to get worse, the
parties are not rising to the challenge during this provincial election.
Gridlock has become the giant elephant in the room. The parties are
aware of the problem, and all know it will take courage and leadership
to address it.
The Board and its 10,000 members are urging Ontario's campaigning
parties to get serious about tackling the problem. We are not alone with
this concern. A recent Environics poll for the Board found 70% of those
with an opinion on the provincial campaign say current party platforms
are not putting enough focus on a key issue affecting the economy -
traffic and congestion in the GTA. The poll also found that 76% believe
traffic congestion has gotten worse in the past two years while 61% say
it has reached crisis proportions in the GTA.
The results underscore a sense of urgency that doesn't seem to register
with our parties. For the past three years, we have had a comprehensive
and integrated regional transportation plan. At $50-billion, this is a
massive undertaking. But driven by the need for votes in a campaign
dominated by pocketbook issues and the fear of voter backlash, no party
is stepping forward on how to finance it.
More than 100,000 people a year - a population equivalent to the city of
Kingston - move into the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) each
year. Within 20 years, a million more cars will be on our roads and
highways. Our sluggish commutes are only going to get slower, longer and
more congested. And this level of congestion will keep us from our
family and friends, increase stress and health issues, reduce levels of
investment and job creation, and generally hamper our quality of
Failing to address the issue also comes with an additional financial
cost. The longer we take to build what's needed, the more the cost to
build it increases. We need only look back to 1990 and a similar
regional transportation plan that would have cost $6.2-billion. We can
pay to ease our gridlock now, or pay more to do it later.
The longer we take, the more gridlock hurts our economy and quality of
life. We have reached a tipping point. Frustration with our commute and
the state of our mobility has become the Toronto region's civic
It's imperative for our next provincial government to reveal how it will
finance the regional transportation plan by the spring of 2012. This
will require finding new and innovative ways to raise dedicated and
sustainable funds for this infrastructure renewal. And it will require
With global economic issues once again affecting the Toronto region's
economy, it's even more vital that we deal with the GTHA's traffic
congestion. It's now one of the biggest impediments to our global
competitiveness. The Toronto region can't afford to stall progress any
longer. It's up to us.
This op-ed appeared on the Globe and Mail's website on September 27.