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Toronto's repair backlog is predicted to balloon by billions over the next decade

Toronto's state of good repair backlog is expected to grow over the next decade according to the city budget. That's despite the upload of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway by the province, which will relieve billions in financial pressure from the city. (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)
Toronto's state of good repair backlog is expected to grow over the next decade according to the city budget. That's despite the upload of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway by the province, which will relieve billions in financial pressure from the city. (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)

Toronto's long list of necessary repairs for local roads, bridges and transit will continue to grow over the next decade according to the city budget, even as two major highways are taken off the books.

The city's state of good repair backlog is projected to shoot up from $10.6 billion to $22.7 billion by 2033. City staff say inflation, high interest rates and a labour shortage all contribute to the problem and mean the city needs to be strategic about how it spends its $49 billion capital budget.

"This is so much worse than you told us last year," Coun. Dianne Saxe said in a recent budget meeting. "Last year it looked scary, this year it's terrifying. Is that a fair summary?"

"I would say… that it is concerning, the state of good repair, and it's something that we do need to pay attention to moving forward," deputy city manager Will Johnson replied.

Toronto's state of good repair reflects the health of its $181 billion in assets. That ranges from roads and bridges to transit vehicles to public housing and parks. All need upkeep, repairs, and replacement at times to ensure they remain functional.

But Toronto has increasingly struggled to fund that upkeep as those assets age.

The growing backlog of items that need repair or replacement is nine per cent of the city's assets, which is projected to jump to 21 per cent over the next decade.

"That means exponentially higher costs, plus much worse conditions for the people of Toronto," Saxe said.

Budget chief Shelley Carroll said the backlog is concerning and it's part of the reason why the city needs to hike taxes by the 10.5 per cent proposed in this year's budget. Part of that figure is the 1.5 per cent City Building Levy, a fund created in 2017 which is dedicated to long-term capital assets, and not operational items which account for the remaining nine per cent of that possible increase.

"That is a big part of why we are really standing up and saying to the residents of Toronto, we need to invest in this city," Carroll said.

"The state of good repair backlog can never improve if we're not prepared to invest in our city."

The largest drivers of the city's repair backlog are the TTC and transportation services. The TTC's state of good repair backlog alone is expected to jump by $8.2 billion over the next decade as vehicles and equipment require urgent replacement.

A full $1.8 billion of that number could be eliminated if the federal government joins the province and city in funding 55 new subway trains for Line 2, city staff say.

Toronto's budget chief Shelley Carroll says the upload of the Gardiner Expressway will allow the city to spend millions more each year on other infrastructure repairs, instead of the costly elevated portion of the highway.
Toronto's budget chief Shelley Carroll says the upload of the Gardiner Expressway will allow the city to spend millions more each year on other infrastructure repairs, instead of the costly elevated portion of the highway.

Toronto's budget chief Shelley Carroll says the upload of the Gardiner Expressway will allow the city to spend millions more each year on other infrastructure repairs, instead of the costly elevated portion of the highway. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Road repair backlog expected to grow over next decade

The transportation services budget covers the upkeep of the city's 5,600 kilometres of roads, 900 bridges and culverts, and 7,400 kilometres of sidewalks, among other infrastructure. But the cost of labour and materials continues to be a major cost escalator. The repair backlog for those assets is expected to grow by $5.6 billion over the next 10 years.

"We cannot take our hand off the wheel and say we're not going to do the city building fund," Carroll said.

"We've got to keep making sure that there is cash going into our capital program where we do those repairs so that we're not overly reliant on debt."

The city's state of good repair backlog excludes the cost for Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway which will be uploaded to the province as a result of a funding agreement struck last fall. City staff say they'll report back on the full impact of the upload to the capital budget later this year.

Carroll says it will be significant, but not enough to address all of the city's capital repair needs.

"There are, every year, state of good repair projects on those highways that aren't anticipated and end up jumping the queue and taking space up in our capital program," she said. "And that's going to stop happening as of next year."

Falling behind on maintenance has a cost: expert

The city's $181 billion in assets is "our collective wealth," said Matti Siemiatycki, the director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto.

But, he says it has to be maintained carefully to retain that value and use to the entire city.

"To not continue to upkeep that infrastructure poses a risk to our shared prosperity, and to the types of community services that are important and make the city a healthy and great place to live," he said.

"The risk of not investing is that those assets will deteriorate and that our quality of life will ultimately start to be put at risk."

Some councillors have floated the idea of pausing the city's contribution to the City Building Levy to help relieve the pressure on taxpayers this year. It's a move city staff have cautioned against, saying the ripple effect of removing that investment would be felt for years to come.

"There is a cost to not investing… as the problems grow, compound, and the impacts get even greater," Siemiatycki said.