Sudbury·SUDBURY CITY HALL

Sudbury's master plan '50 years out of date': economist

According to Canada's latest census numbers, Greater Sudbury has seen a population increase of 6,000 over the past decade — a number that suggests to city managers they can proceed with some major road projects.

David Robinson says it’s time to throw out current plan, before it ‘drives people out of the city’

Some residents in Sudbury say the blip in census numbers shouldn't be the main reason to begin major road projects. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

According to Canada's latest census numbers, Greater Sudbury has seen a population increase of 6,000 over the past decade — a number that suggests to city managers they can proceed with some major road projects.

Despite the slight increase, a Laurentian University economist says the city's master plan is based on "incorrect projections," "50 years out of date," and destined to eventually drive people out of Sudbury.

"You build roads and then you have to pay for them, and later your population drops and you're really looking at big tax increases," Robinson said.

"If on the other hand, you don't build a road and you get a small increase in population, the current system will handle it. So there's very high downsize risk and almost no upside risk."

In a blog post analyzing the city's master plan, Robinson cited a Ministry of Finance report that predicts the average age of Sudburians to steadily increase over the next quarter century,

"A transportation plan for a city with no growth, more elderly and fewer schools would look very different from the plan that council has been asked to consider," he wrote.

Robinson says the consequences of overestimating the population are serious. They include higher taxes and a decline in services.

"I'm just speaking as an economist here. I know people kind of like to be able to drive, but we've got this situation where people downtown actually subsidize roads for people up the Valley," he said. 

"People go up the Valley because they have nice roads ... Right now, you've got a set of incentives that are going to make Sudbury more and more expensive to operate."

Robinson suggests the city start from scratch, focusing on building density in the city's core before improving outlying road infrastructure.

"We don't have a plan in New Sudbury to make it so everybody within a kilometre can walk to the mall and the school comfortably," Robinson said.

"We don't have a plan to make the four corners a pedestrian friendly community. If you were to start fresh, you would be looking at ways to prevent growth up the Valley and the outskirts, and really heavily concentrating on getting a denser population downtown."
Economist David Robinson says the consequences of overestimating the population are serious. They include higher taxes and a decline in services. (CBC)

Despite census numbers, population not really growing, say Seniors

John Lindsay, chair of the group Friendly to Seniors, also wonders whether a 6,000 person increase is enough to justify plans to build and widen more roads.

"Do we really need extra roads when our population is not going to grow? When we don't have the assessment base to either build them or secondly to maintain them," he said.

"It's great to have rose-coloured glasses on and be always optimistic and it's important to be optimistic, but we have to be realistic as well."

Master Plan not just about the population, says city manager

But Tony Cecutti, Sudbury's manger of growth and infrastructure, said population is just one of the factors considered when projecting traffic trends

"It's difficult to look at population as being the only factor that you'd look at when you're considering your road network and the viability and the needs for that road network," Cecutti said.

"But certainly an increase of one per cent is a very strong sign to us that our community is growing and we need to ensure that we're doing all the right things to sustain that growth."

Cecutti said it's important to look at trends across the city. For example, his research suggests that people are coming from outside the city to conduct business, and some local businesses use supply trucks and vehicles daily.

"If you take a positive outlook and build the right things at the right period of time, history has shown that that sets up the environment that you need to be successful with growth and sustained economic development," Cecutti said.

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