Toronto Star

City faces growing backlog of repair projects

Costs expected to reach $22.7B over next decade


Toronto’s state of good repair backlog — the amount of unfunded capital work required to keep its assets in good shape — is set to more than double over the next decade, from $10.6 billion by the end of last year to $22.7 billion in 2033, according to budget documents.

For all the investment­s Mayor Olivia Chow has included in her 2024 budget to get Toronto “back on track,” the problem is getting worse. The 2024 budget would commit $26 billion to state of good repair work over the next decade, $1.8 billion more than was allocated last year.

Yet the projected backlog the city will face by 2033 has grown by $4 billion since just last year, due to aging assets, inflation, labour shortages and the city pausing some work during the pandemic to paper over operating shortfalls.

The projection­s don’t include the planned upload of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway as part of the “new deal” Mayor Olivia Chow negotiated with Premier Doug Ford in November. The agreement could take at least $3 billion in capital costs off the city’s books, but would still leave Toronto facing a daunting backlog.

The parks department, which oversees arenas, is among the divisions with the largest unfunded needs, along with the city transporta­tion and real estate divisions, the TTC and Toronto Community Housing Corporatio­n.

Like any hockey parent, Judy Alexander is used to shuttling her kids to and from the rink a few times a week. Her boys, 13 and 16, play competitiv­ely, which means they’re on the ice so often she and her husband have to be in two places at once.

“A lot of times we can’t watch the games together because one’s at a practice, one’s at a game,” Alexander said.

It makes things easier if the rink they need to get to is close by.

Scarboroug­h Gardens, a 10-minute drive from their home in the Beach and the home rink of the team one son played on, was a favourite.

But, in early 2020, the city abruptly closed the 70-year-old facility when it found structural problems in the roof. An inspection eventually determined the damage was extensive enough it would be cheaper to tear down the structure than replace it.

Her son’s team had to relocate to a facility in north Scarboroug­h, forcing Alexander to spend up to 40 minutes in traffic. The smaller pool of available rinks has also left teams fighting for scarcer ice time.

When a local arena shuts down “the community feels it,” Alexander said.

Hockey parents, along with anyone else who uses Toronto’s public recreation facilities, takes public transit, or drives on city roads, should brace for more closures and disruption­s.

Signs of Toronto’s infrastruc­ture decay, big and small, are everywhere: in crumbling public housing, signal problems that cause subway delays and broken air conditioni­ng that last year sent indoor temperatur­es at a downtown community centre soaring to 40 C.

Coun. Lily Cheng (Willowdale) called the numbers “apocalypti­c,” and said she worries about the state of the city her children will inherit.

Chow’s 2024 budget, which will be debated by council Wednesday, would impose a historic 9.5 per cent property tax increase on residents, including a 1.5 per cent for the city building fund dedicated to transit and housing.

But Cheng said, as long as the backlog continues to grow, taxpayers won’t be getting bang for their buck. “We’re asking for more but, at the same time, we are really just maintainin­g a mediocre standard,” she said.

As Scarboroug­h Gardens demonstrat­es, the problem snowballs the longer it goes unaddresse­d. By the time the roof damage was discovered, it had grown bad enough the city had to issue a $490,000 emergency contract to shore up the structure for inspection­s. The contract grew to $1.8 million before the city decided to rebuild the arena, at a cost of at least $32 million. The replacemen­t is set to be complete by spring 2025.

And then there’s Toronto’s road network. The city transporta­tion department reported the city’s major roads scored 57 on the pavement quality index (PQI), a measuremen­t of a roadway’s state of repair. That’s well below the score of 70 that would be considered well-maintained.

At current spending levels, the city can only address about one-third of its road repair needs, and staff projects the condition of major roads will “deteriorat­e steadily,” to a PQI of 49.

The TTC is projected to be biggest single driver of the backlog increase, adding $8.2 billion by 2033. The agency has warned that, unless it’s able to replace aging vehicles and infrastruc­ture, system reliabilit­y will be “at risk due to possible failure.” The province pledged up to $758 million for new 55 subway trains for Line 2 as part of the new deal, but the funding is contingent on a matching promise from the federal government.

Chow says her budget, the first of her tenure, will help tame the backlog. The mayor is proposing leveraging funds freed up through the new deal to create a $50-million “back-on-track fund,” that could be used to accelerate urgent work like fixing potholes and repairing park infrastruc­ture.

Chow said she’s also asked city staff to come up with “clear criteria” to determine which repair projects are prioritize­d, which would take into account the lifespan of the asset and focus on repairs that would benefit the most residents and address environmen­tal concerns. That would help ensure fixes are made before assets deteriorat­e beyond repair.

“We’ll do it systematic­ally,” Chow said.

Coun. Dianne Saxe said, given the size of the backlog, the mayor’s $50million fund is “a drop in the bucket” but “still an important drop.”

The University-Rosedale representa­tive said residents should know the 2024 budget “is not a budget that will deliver significan­t improvemen­ts.”

“This is a budget to hold the line and keep services running, and slightly slow the rate of deteriorat­ion.”

The TTC is projected to be the biggest single driver of the backlog increase, adding $8.2 billion by 2033. The agency has warned that, unless it’s able to replace aging vehicles and infrastruc­ture, system reliabilit­y will be “at risk due to possible failure”

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