By Ryan McGreal
Published August 15, 2011
A new report by the Conference Board of Canada examines the immediate and long-term benefits of the Metrolinx Big Move plan to invest $19 billion between 2009 and 2020 in new transportation projects to connect the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
The report, funded by Metrolinx and titled Connecting Jobs and People: Exploring the Wider Benefits of Urban Transportation Investments, finds that even without considering broader social and economic benefits, each dollar spent in capital will produce a net positive return of $1.19 in GDP growth through the construction phase.
However, the report also finds that the economy as a whole will enjoy a number of benefits from improved regional transportation.
First, the Big Move will "make it easier to match workers and jobs" across the GTHA by giving GTHA employers access to a larger pool of employees and vice versa. This has been shown in other jurisdictions to increase labour productivity and reduce unemployment.
"Without a more integrated transportation network that allows for greater access across the GTHA, the report notes, employment centres "will become more vulnerable to labour shortages and poor job-skill matches."
At the same time, improved regional transit encourages intensification around transit nodes, creating higher employment densities in urban centres and improving economic growth.
However, the report also notices that the current fragmented system of zoning, property taxes and development charges across the GTHA have had the effect of "encouraging urban sprawl" instead of concentrating development.
"Transportation infrastructure is thus a necessary but not sole condition for achieving agglomeration economies."
The report concludes that the GTHA and other urban areas in Canada should do more research on wider economic impacts of transportation investments, noting that such research "has been sparse".
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