This is the executive summary of the recently released report “Megatrends: The Impact of Infrastructure on Ontario’s and Canada’s Future.”
The report was written by Michael Fenn, whose extensive career in public service includes stints as a former Ontario deputy minister, and founding CEO of both Metrolinx and the Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network.
It was commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), a labour-management coalition which has advocated for infrastructure investment for 11 years, commissioning 37 independent, solutions-based reports to help inform decision-makers.
The public debate about the need to invest in public infrastructure has reached the point of broad consensus in Canada and across the world. Unfortunately, there is much less understanding of the need to build the right infrastructure for the long term, using the most sustainable and forward-looking financial instruments and tax policies.
Built properly, infrastructure lasts a long time. Good infrastructure decisions can serve us well for decades, economically, socially and environmentally. Poor or short-sighted infrastructure decisions will burden us and those who follow us for generations.
How can Ontario’s and Canada’s big public decisions about infrastructure ensure that we anticipate the future, in order to promote greater prosperity and a better quality of life? Short-term considerations can result in short-sighted decisions and missed opportunities for dealing with complex but urgent needs.
This report identifies “megatrends” – major trends or movements – and projects their impact on our infrastructure decisions between now and 2030.
Some Key Findings
• Transportation: Faster and less congested trips, economical long-distance commuting and dependable logistics. Broad-based acceptance of innovations – automated vehicle control, driver-assisted vehicles, road-pricing regimes, in-vehicle technology for distance-separation and collision-avoidance, expressway system-access controls, drone technology, vehicle and ride sharing, computer-aided logistics and dispatch, high-speed trains and a renaissance in water transport. They will combine to revolutionize Ontario’s transportation system, as well as having huge impacts on patterns urban development and housing costs.
• Rapid transit and public transit: Platform-side doors, automated train control; time-of-day and distance-sensitive, universally accepted, bank-linked, multi-purpose fare-media will increase throughput and reduce congestion, despite increasing passenger volumes. Fare-media will also be used for parking and convenience incidentals, like coffee and lottery tickets.
But as transportation consultants Bern Grush and John Niles point out1 driver-assisted and automated vehicles may be a positive or negative development, depending on whether society and the marketplace act pro-actively to plan and manage them. Ride-sharing and vehicle-sharing may displace conventional public-transit vehicles as the predominant feeder system for rapid-transit lines, opening the door to more progressive transit fares and financial sustainability of public transit.
• Light, flexible and adaptable infrastructure: With the convergence of miniaturization, reconstructed components and new-age design processes, the infrastructure of tomorrow will include rapid construction, more light, flexible infrastructure and new, cost-effective building materials. Some infrastructure will be more resilient to address climate change, but other infrastructure will have shorter life expectancies and amortization periods than traditional structures. Some transportation infrastructure might be relocated or reformatted before its planned end of life. Different delivery models will be necessary due to factors such as evolving economic conditions and changing demographics. Aggregated traffic management data will assist us in better planning for the future, and maximize the through-put of existing transportation systems.
• In health care, the evidence-based test of “right treatment, by the right provider, in the right place, at the right time, for the lowest cost to the taxpayer” will drive integration. Technological and medical measures to maintain the elderly in their own homes and in retirement residences will expand dramatically. But will it also mean less emphasis on “bricks-and-mortar” hospitals and more attention to community health facilities, both public and private? In the future, outside of unserviced areas, Ontario might need to build or expand hospitals only for advanced treatments and research.
• Likewise in education, the future will challenge traditional models of bricks-and-mortar campus infrastructure, as technology gives students ready, low-cost access to alternative providers and to the world’s best researchers and instructors, on their tablets, on their ubiquitous smartphones and on their wrists.
• For water, wastewater and stormwater, the impacts of climate change and convergence will demand new designs and greater capacity, integrating delivery and management, while linking financial and environmental sustainability. Regional, commercial utility and watershed will be the organizational frameworks for water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. This report also presents an agenda for action, if Ontario and Canada are to seize the moment and invest in the kind of infrastructure that anticipates the future and prepares us for that future.