Fix No. 1 [Trans-Canada] Highway – by Livio Di Matteo and Wayne Simpson (National Post-April 27, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper. This article was originally published in the Financial Post section on April 27, 2011.

Livio Di Matteo is professor of economics at Lakehead University. Wayne Simpson is professor of economics at the University of Manitoba. (Financial Post)

The Trans-Canada is far from the world-class Interstate Highway System that exists in the United States

The federal election has highlighted the need for transportation infrastructure in Canada’s Far North with the recent federal budget’s announcement of $150-million for an Arctic highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. While the goal of a national highway system from sea to sea to sea can be seen as an important nation-building goal, the fact remains that the east-west Trans-Canada Highway system is still inadequate despite its crucial role as a national transportation artery.

While much of Highway 1, as it is known in much of Canada, is four lanes, it is still deficient in parts of Eastern and Western Canada. Moreover, even what is four lanes is still a far cry from a world-class highway system, as exists in the U.S. Interstate system or the European autobahns.

Canada is the largest developed country in the world without a system of fully grade-separated roadways that allow uninterrupted traffic flow between its major urban centres. The key roadblocks include the two-lane stretches from the Manitoba border to Sudbury and much of the route between the Alberta border and Kamloops.

Most importantly, the Trans-Canada is still a two-lane stretch through the vital zone of transit through northwestern Ontario connecting the East with the West from the Manitoba border to Sudbury, leaving the nation’s east-west flow of personal and commercial traffic subject to the whims of an errant moose.

The slow travel times and disruptions make cutting through the United States an attractive option for east-west travellers, despite the absence of an Interstate route along the border, but U.S. border-crossing formalities have also made this more difficult and time-consuming.

Canada pays a price for this sub-standard system in the form of higher transportation costs due to longer travel times, increased traffic deaths, reduced tourism opportunities and a diminished sense of national security, given the reduced possibility of rapidly moving assistance from one part of the country to another in times of national distress. The safety aspect alone is important, as it has been estimated that in its first 40 years, the U.S. Interstate Highway System reduced traffic fatalities by 187,000 deaths. Are American lives worth so much more than our own that we cannot invest in the safety of our roadways? Moreover, careful analyses have found that U.S. Interstate highway investments have consistently reduced production and distribution costs and raised productivity across the industrial spectrum, yielding large returns to society.

In a recent policy paper for the Frontier Center for Public Policy, Wendell Cox makes the case for a Canadian autobahn system that would upgrade the entire transcontinental route from Halifax through Toronto to Vancouver to motorway standard at a cost of about $28-billion. This constitutes a hefty investment that would have to compete for scarce public funds. At present, however, there is no such competition for funds because there appears to be no recognition in Ottawa of the potential value of the national highway project.

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