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There’s no justifying pricey superhighway

The cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph are to be congratulated for presenting a compelling business case for greatly improved two-way rail commuting with Toronto (Tribune, Dec. 19).

The business-case study forecasts over 35,000 new jobs and over $800 million a year in tax revenue to governments as the economic benefit to the public from the capital investment involved.

The capital cost, spread over 10 years, is very large.  Completing the needed double track would, by itself,  cost over $400 million. Despite the high cost of a fast all-day commuter service, the large benefits foreseen fully justify the expenditure.

This business-case approach should be required for all major capital projects in Ontario. If this is done for the proposed superhighway 7 from Guelph to Kitchener, the proposal will be killed immediately.

Traffic counts on this highway have stalled at 22,000 vehicles a day for the last 12 years and Hwy 7 provides very cost-efficient transportation at an acceptable level of service.

A business-case analysis would show that spending $200 million-plus on a capital project with no demonstrated need and no appreciable payoff in new jobs, and  which results in  appreciable damage to the natural environment and loss of valuable environmental services, makes as little sense as starting, then cancelling, power stations.

The province has, so far, been unable to find the capital to construct the unneeded Hwy 7 superhighway. It would clear the air to have the project scrubbed.

A fresh look at provincial capital budgets, with business-case analysis applied to all projects, would allow the funding of the provincial share of investments in projects that enhance a sustainable future, projects such as the proposed commuter rail project.

The City of Guelph had no business case to justify the $20 million-plus Laird overpass on the Hanlon. It had to gift the province with $9 million to have the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario  reprioritize this project from “not-needed-in-the-foreseeable future” to “must-build-now” priority.

Now the city is $9 million short just when it must find $3.15 million for the city’s share of the completed GO service improvements (Tribune, Dec 19). Let’s hope the day of rational decision-making for capital projects is dawning at last.

Hugh Whiteley
Guelph

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