City to double spending for repaving roads in 2022

The City of Ottawa plans to more than double its spending for fixing up roads next year, mostly by issuing millions of dollars in debt.

Councillors also hear pitch to build cycling network much faster than planned

City of Ottawa crews fill a pothole at the intersection of Bronson and Fifth Avenue in 2018. The city is planning to more than double its spending next year on patching up some of the more than 6,000 kilometres of roads that fall under its jurisdiction. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The City of Ottawa plans to more than double its spending for repaving existing roads next year, mostly by issuing $39 million in debt.

The 2022 draft budget calls for $76 million to be spent on resurfacing a long list of roads, up from $36.9 million in 2021. Projections show spending should return to more normal levels in the years to follow.

The city manages more than 6,000 kilometres of roads, transportation committee heard Wednesday as it approved its portion of the draft budget.

City councillors regularly hear complaints from residents about the state of the city's roads: the cracks, the potholes, and the way they're repaired. 

While city staff could not immediately say how much is spent on claims for damage to vehicles, that was one of the concerns for resident Ken Holmes, who makes a presentation every year at budget time.

He welcomed the "substantial" increase but urged the city to keep up on maintenance so it doesn't pay more in the long-term.

Low debt costs

The budget has earmarked $133 million to renew roads next year, including upgrades for rural roads and rebuilding roads during major sewer and watermain replacements.

Many residential streets have been patched for years and are in poor condition, Innes ward Coun. Laura Dudas pointed out.

The city has been focused on repairing collector and arterial roads, and Dudas said she hoped smaller local streets would soon get their turn.

The city has been able to speed up planned repaving projects by using some federal gas tax revenues and by taking advantage of low debt costs, said chief financial officer Wendy Stephanson.

"We're able to issue debt at a very low price to be able to deliver on these sooner rather than later," she told reporters.

Pitch for cycling network

River ward Coun. Riley Brockington said his residents will appreciate the fixes but wondered why the city was taking out debt for that job and not proportionately increasing spending for cycling and sidewalks. 

The City of Ottawa will spend $10 million on new cycling infrastructure and $2 million to fix up existing paths in 2022. Many councillors were interested in an idea put forward Wednesday by economist Neil Saravanamootoo to dramatically speed that up.

During his public delegation, Saravanamootoo suggested the city take out a loan at a low interest rate and spend $250 million to build the desired network for residents now, instead of slowly over 25 years.

Doing so, he argued, would reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions while also putting less wear on the road network.

"We can follow in the footsteps of other cities that have decided to build up their entire bike networks in a couple of years," said Saravanamootoo, pointing to Montreal, Paris, Chicago, and Milan.

City staff said it was possible to push ahead plans to expand the cycling network, but they could be limited by the capacity of the construction industry. Councillors took no special steps at the meeting to follow up on the idea.

The transportation portion of the city budget, which represents $338 million on operations and $427 million in capital projects, goes to full council on Dec. 8.

Councillors Jeff Leiper and Mathieu Fleury dissented on the capital spending for transportation.