Municipalities ready their pitches for federal infrastructure spending blitz

OTTAWA – Municipalities are lining up for a piece of the Conservative government’s $14-billion blitz on infrastructure spending, with proposals for projects ranging from wastewater treatment to public transit.

Pitches have been in the works for weeks — if not months — in anticipation of the unveiling this week of the new building Canada fund, which was first announced in last year’s federal budget.

Provinces, cities and towns had to do most of their preparations ahead of time because they’re under a serious time crunch. Existing spending is set to run out and the new fund kicks off on April 1. That leaves would-be funding recipients a little more than a month to assemble their proposals.

Two cities — Calgary and Ottawa — shared some details of their infrastructure funding proposals with The Canadian Press.

Ottawa plans to ask the federal and provincial governments for $65 million each to pay for the third and final phase of its plan to limit the amount of raw sewage that spills into the Ottawa River. Both levels of government have already partnered with the city for the first two phases of the plan.

Ryan Kennery, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Watson, says the city has managed to reduce the amount of sewage overflow by 80 per cent in the last six years. Last year, however, 205 million litres of sewage and waste water still spilled into the river.

The city wants money from this new infrastructure pot to build underground storage tanks for the excess sewage and waste water. Once treatment plants are up and running, the water would be cleaned and released into the river.

The plan is to get funding in place this year and go to tender by the fall, Kennery said. If everything works, construction would start next year and most of the work would be done by 2017.

Calgary wants to tap into the building fund to help pay for several major projects.

The city estimates it needs to spend $13.6 billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. Of that, $4 billion is funded, leaving a gap of $9.6 billion Calgary hopes to fill with federal and provincial money.

“The province and the federal government both have roles to play in funding the capital needs of cities,” Daorcey Le Bray, a spokesman for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, said in an email.

“Property tax, alone, doesn’t even come close to paying for the infrastructure needs of growing cities (or the maintenance of older cities).”

The projects are grouped into three categories: corporate, community and transportation infrastructure. They include light-rail extensions, parks and outdoor spaces and emergency response.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said it welcomes the money but has concerns about some of the changes to this round of funding.

Local roads, sports and recreation facilities and culture and tourism are no longer eligible for funding. Municipalities will have to tap into federal gas tax money to pay for those projects.

As well, a federal Crown corporation called P3 Canada has to review every project worth more than $100 million to determine if it can be done as a public-private partnership — and its decision is final.

Municipalities are also not allowed to use their gas tax money to pay their share of big infrastructure projects as they had been in the past.

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