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Investing in infrastructures

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Imagine never re-investing in your home’s infrastructure. After 15 years, your roof would need repairs. After 20 years, your furnace and air conditioning systems would begin breaking down, and plumbing and electrical networks start deteriorating. Soon enough, your house would be unliveable.

Governments face the same challenges with our public infrastructure—our roads, sewers, water treatment systems and bridges. Indeed, Canada’s water treatment facilities, sewers and roads and highways are more than halfway through their expected useful lives. However, thanks to recent increases in government investment, the average age of Canada’s public infrastructure dropped in 2003—the first decline since 1973.

Although Canadian drivers still curse potholes and summer construction, our road networks have been getting younger since 1995, reaching an average age of 16.6 years in 2003. But roads and highways are expected to last about 28 years; this still puts them beyond the mid-point of their useful lives.

Since 1997, the average age of our municipal sewer systems has been getting younger. Huge investment by municipalities in sewer systems in recent years has helped triple the value of this category of infrastructure over the last 40 years, to $18.5 billion.

Of all infrastructure categories, wastewater treatment facilities are closest to the end of their service lives. Here, too, municipal governments have been investing heavily, accounting for 95% of all investment from 1997 to 2003. Provincial investment has been lower, and the average age of their facilities has ballooned from 14.2 years to 22.1 years from 1963 to 2003.