Rural infrastructure to get cash infusion

The numbers look impressive, but the breakdown between provincial and municipal spending 
needs to be examined when funding is announced

Municipal officials are welcoming the provincial government’s commitment to invest in infrastructure over the next five years.

“On the municipal side we were pleased with the announcements that came. It’s nowhere near enough to cover the $11-billion deficit that we have in infrastructure, but this is a pretty good start,” said Doug Dobrowolski, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

In the run-up to the official budget release last week, the province announced a five-year infrastructure plan that will see $5.5 billion go towards “core infrastructure priorities.”

Dobrowolski notes it’s important to tease out how much of that funding will go to municipal infrastructure and how much will find its way into provincially funded infrastructure.

Secondary municipal roads will receive $1.5 million per year for the next five years, while major municipal-maintained roads will receive $2.75 million per year over the same period, he said.

Municipalities will also get $1 million per year for bridge repair and an additional $2 million per year will be added to the existing water services budget.

“So that will go a long ways to helping municipalities, but I mean municipalities own 60 per cent of the infrastructure, we need money to keep fixing it,” Dobrowolski said. “Manitoba has some of the oldest infrastructure in Canada.”

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) was also pleased to hear more money will be going to the roads and bridges farmers rely on.

“It’s good to see the infrastructure in the budget,” said KAP vice-president Dan Mazier. “The reality is a lot of this infrastructure should have been fixed a long time ago, it’s very outdated and now they’re in rescue mode.”

In total, more than $3.7 billion will be invested in Manitoba roads, highways and bridges, which the government hopes will better connect communities and strengthen trade corridors over the next half-decade.

Flood protection will also see an investment of $320 million, while more than $1.5 billion total will be invested in municipal roads, clean water and other municipal infrastructure.

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However, what Mazier didn’t see in the 2014 budget announcements was a commitment to better water management, something that could lessen the need for flood protection and reduce infrastructure damage in the long run.

“There’s still the issues outstanding from the 2011 flood, but no real big resolution there, no specific reference to it. What concerns me a little more is that they’re still talking about mitigation, they’re not talking about long-term planning and how we should work to manage water in the future,” he said. “Maybe that’s hidden in the details there… I’m not too sure.”

Revenue from the recent one per cent increase to the provincial sales tax will finance the infrastructure plan.

“In past decades, economic uncertainty brought cuts and there was not enough infrastructure investment to keep up the aging roads, highways, bridges and flood protection that Manitobans rely on,” said Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton. “We are making this historic investment because we know restoring and expanding our infrastructure is actually even more important during economic uncertainty.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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