Nearly half of Ontario municipal infrastructure needs repair: watchdog report

Ontario's Financial Accountability Office estimates that 45 per cent of municipal infrastructure in the province needs repairs, which it says will cost about $52 billion.

Needed repairs to roads, buildings and other facilities will cost $52 billion, says Ontario's fiscal watchdog

Commuters drive on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto on Jan. 11, 2020. A new report says almost half of municipal infrastructure needs repairs, with roads making up the largest share of the backlog. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's fiscal watchdog estimates 45 per cent of municipal infrastructure in the province needs repairs, which it says will cost about $52 billion.

The Financial Accountability Office warns, however, that the backlog of infrastructure in need of fixing is likely higher since the data it examined is incomplete.

In a report published Monday, the office looked at the condition of municipal infrastructure and costs as of last year to keep assets in good repair.

Municipal roads make up the largest share of the backlog, estimated at $21.1 billion, followed by buildings and facilities, wastewater, potable water and bridges and culverts.

The financial watchdog notes, however, that the condition of about 10 per cent of assets valued at $47 billion is unknown.

It says keeping public infrastructure in good repair is the most cost-effective strategy for managing assets but that can conflict with other budgetary priorities.

"Postponing repairs raises the risk of service disruption and increases the costs associated with municipal infrastructure over time," the report said.

Toronto had the lowest backlog in province

The FAO estimated the total value of municipal infrastructure looked at in the report was $484 billion in 2020.

It noted that the Toronto area had the largest share of assets in good repair, at 63 per cent, and had the lowest infrastructure backlog compared with other regions.

Municipalities have until 2024 under provincial law to develop detailed inventories on municipal assets like infrastructure, so the FAO compiled data for its report from available sources, such as site inspections or the age of the asset.

The report didn't look at municipalities' fiscal capacity to eliminate the infrastructure backlog or assess current infrastructure against demand or future expansion needs.

Green Party, NDP call on province to provide support

It was one of a series of reports from the office analyzing the impact of climate change hazards on infrastructure.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called the report's findings "dire" and said the effects of climate change will worsen the situation.

"Without a doubt municipalities will bear the brunt of climate adaptation," Schreiner said in a statement.

He called on Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford to support municipalities financially so they can complete necessary infrastructure repairs.

The Opposition NDP said the report shows the provincial government is failing to invest in communities.

"Now is the time — a time when we need jobs, a time when Ontario needs economic activity — to end decades of uncertain funding and underfunding," municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch said in a statement.