By Russell Piffer
Gridlock in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas has become so severe that it’s hindering Canada’s economy, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said this week.
“The gridlock challenge in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area is probably the greatest impediment to productivity improvements in the Canadian economy,” Duncan told the CBC on Tuesday. “Whatever government of whatever political stripe is going to have to come to terms with the reality that there will have to be new sources of revenue to support it.”
Sarah Thomson, chairperson of the Toronto Transit Alliance, a group of local planners and business people dedicated to relieving gridlock through transit expansion, told Humber News that time lost to gridlock is lost economic productivity.
“That lost productivity goes up with every extra minute people have to spend in their cars,” she said.
According to a Toronto Board of Trade report released in 2011, congestion costs the Toronto-region economy about $6 billion a year.
At the time the report was done, average commute times in the GTA had reached about 80 minutes.
The transit alliance is campaigning for a one per cent sales tax dedicated strictly to funding transit expansion.
“I believe in full mobility,” Thomson said. “In the downtown area, and areas we expect growth, we need to be putting in subways.”
“There also have to be highways, there have to be bus lanes, there have to be bike lanes,” Thomson said.
The growing gridlock problem comes amid an unprecedented population boom in the GTA, said TD economist Francis Fung.
“If you look at five or ten years ago we weren’t seeing the rapid growth that we’re seeing now,” Fung told Humber News.
According to a TD report released Tuesday, Toronto’s downtown core is growing at three times the rate than it was five years ago.
Although downtown’s growth rate has surpassed suburbs’ for the first time since the 1970s, population growth is still extremely rapid in the 905-area, Fung said.
“You’re seeing strong growth at both the 905 and downtown area, which really suggests our transit infrastructure is going to get more and more strained,” Fung said.
The Peel, York Durham and Halton regions grew 13.7 per cent between 2006 and 2011 while downtown grew 16.2 per cent, the TD report said.
From 2001-2006, downtown grew 4.6 per cent.
“Toronto has hit critical mass at this point,” Fung said. “I feel like we’re on our way to becoming a world-class city like New York, London or Shanghai”
To facilitate growth the city is going to need to improve transit infrastructure, he said.