Municipal infrastructure is the foundation of our daily lives. It impacts how we move, where we go for recreation, and the city services we get to access. Infrastructure is critical to the competitiveness of our city’s economy, the quality of life people enjoy, and the delivery of public services.
In this blog series I will be talking about the historical context of our city’s infrastructure investments, how it has led us to where we are today, specific numbers on our infrastructure investments, and how that translates into operating dollars.
The ability to build and maintain infrastructure assets ensures Edmonton can provide quality services and remain an attractive, cost-effective place to live and start/operate a business. As the City’s infrastructure ages, more maintenance and rehabilitation is required to ensure that infrastructure is performing well and meeting the needs of Edmontonians. At the same time, Edmonton is a growing city, and demands arise for new infrastructure to support its growth.
Continued annual investment is required for our city to match our expected rates of growth. Patterns of under-investment constrain growth and lead to shortfalls, inefficiencies, and infrastructure gaps. In more severe cases, lack of maintenance and investment could lead to the deterioration of foundational systems to a point where our systems no longer work. Resilient infrastructure provides accessible, reliable, and inclusive services for all.
In the mid-1990s, City Council approved no property tax increases for five years in a row. While this was a financial relief for Edmontonians, this also meant there was no real investment in infrastructure to account for any population growth or any maintenance of already existing infrastructure. In order to achieve no tax increase, the City of Edmonton sold off equipment that could be used to help maintain infrastructure, stopped doing regular inspections on our drainage system, and was not properly investing in our transportation network (ex: roads, sidewalks, transit centers, etc.).
That was until 13 years later when the City of Edmonton established the Neighbourhood Renewal Program in 2009. The program works to reconstruct and maintain streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, street lighting, and collector roads throughout neighbourhoods in Edmonton. Typically, this is done in more mature neighborhoods but the biggest priority is establishing preventative measures to make sure that neighbourhood infrastructure does not deteriorate prematurely.
Prior to 1987, no significant renewal work had taken place in Edmonton’s neighbourhoods. Roads, sidewalks, and sewers were reaching the end of their lifecycle. Between 1987 and 2008, the City renewed 52 neighbourhoods – just over an average of two per year. As of 2009, it was estimated that 174 neighbourhoods were in need of renewal out of the approximate 300 City of Edmonton neighbourhoods. A 2012 report to Council identified chronic underfunding as a factor for the lack of renewal work. Neighbourhood Renewal was first developed in 2004 when Council defined a scope of work. However, it was not considered a program until 2009 with the establishment of a stable source of funding through a dedicated tax levy increase.
In 2011, The City of Edmonton implemented the Risk-based Infrastructure Management System (RIMS) that assists in the ranking of rehabilitation needs within the city and the allocation of renewal funds across infrastructure assets to ensure long-term sustainability. Scenario analysis through RIMS helps inform the decisions on what is needed along with where and when that work should occur so that rehabilitation and construction costs remain as low as possible.
With the proper systems now in place to help us review the efficiency of our infrastructure investments, we are now able to invest in the areas where we have been seeing gaps for decades. Due to the lack of infrastructure investment that we saw for years, our infrastructure was in a very challenging position.
In the next blog post of this series, I will be breaking down the budgets for renewal and growth while going into specific investment numbers/examples that we’ve seen in relation to roads, sidewalks, transit, and bike lanes for the past two budget cycles.