I’m not an accountant and I’m no math wizard, but I’ve noticed some pretty big numbers being thrown around lately – spending on roads amidst talk of cutting services I’m hoping most consider important.

 

Sure, the money’s all coming from separate budgets, different logic is applied to each decision and no doubt there’s justification for all sides. But I wonder sometimes, do we have our priorities straight?

 

First off, let’s look at some of Calgary’s major road projects. The north ring road was just completed for $1 billion. The southeast portion (Stoney Trail from 17 Ave. SE to the 22x) will cost another $1 billion. The southwest portion is getting fast tracked with a signed deal anticipated by the end of this month – price tag yet to be determined. A tunnel under the new airport runway is in the works with $50 million committed from the City and total costs ranging from $50 million to $500 million, with the first phase coming in around $125 million according to Ald. Jim Stevenson. And that’s just a shortlist of the latest big projects.

 

Meanwhile, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a $55.9-billion budget shortfall and the provincial deficit is somewhere between $6.9 and $9 billion. The Alberta Teacher’s Association is anticipating the province will cut $340 million from the education budget. Alberta Health Services is dealing with a $1.1-billion deficit for this fiscal year and an additional $1-billion deficit for 2010.

 

It seems unbalanced that we should pave new roads while health and education take a hit.
I’m not suggesting it’s necessarily economically wise to sink into an infrastructure deficit. The ring road is creating efficiencies for truckers and commuters, and that’s likely saving money. An airport tunnel might include dedicated transit lanes and would ensure more than one routing to and from the airport.

But are there really no other, more budget-friendly options for our current transportation dilemmas?

Surely if education and health care are having to sharpen their pencils, our appetite for spending on world class roads should likewise be suppressed. Roads serve only cars and require ongoing costly maintenance. Education and health are investments that pay back in dividends.

More than 400 people attended what was described as a “raucous rally” demanding funding for an airport tunnel last week and it all makes me wonder if we’ve lost sight of what really matters.