“The Maley Drive Extension is a solid investment in the social, economic and environmental future of the City of Greater Sudbury that will deliver short-term, medium-term and long-term benefits to residents, business and industry in an affordable and fiscally responsible manner, made possible by a three-way cost sharing partnership.”
Sounds great doesn’t it?
The Maley Drive Extension and Lasalle Boulevard Widening Phase 1 and Phase 2. From Maley Extension Phase 1 Business Case Support (February, 2016)
The Maley Drive Extension would provide an alternate route connecting Falconbridge Highway to Municipal Road 35, allowing mining trucks, and anyone else, to by-pass LaSalle Boulevard, a major commercial arterial road on the north side of Sudbury’s urban area. It would consist of four lanes stretching approximately 12 kilometres and cost at least $150 million for both phases (or $3.12 million per lane kilometre).
Not surprisingly, there are some people in Sudbury who disagree with the city regarding the benefits of the new road and some argue the cost of the road would be better spent on resurfacing our existing roads, investing in transit, or building protected bike lanes instead.
This Tuesday at 6pm is a public input session and you can watch it live.
I’m not going to try to debate the merits and flaws of the Maley Drive project in this post. Instead I’d like to introduce you to the various perspectives on the Maley Drive project because this is the most this city has talked about infrastructure and transportation since the Brady Street extension more than half a century ago.
Gathering the Troops
It’s the social media age, so each side has a Facebook Page. There’s “STOP The Maley Drive Extension“, started by the mayor’s former campaign manager. And there’s “Supporters of Maley Drive Extension” started by a local poverty and transit advocate and co-administered by city councillor Robert Kirwan.
News article comments and facebook discussions provide no clear consensus on the issue with many commenters repeating the list of benefits promoted by project proponents, and others rejecting the plan on a variety of bases.
The odd thing is, Maley wasn’t an election issue. The public didn’t seem to be weighing its options for mayor or council based on support or objections to the project. Instead we had a referendum on whether stores should be able to open 24 hours and on boxing day.
All mayoral candidates came out in support of the new road during the municipal election in 2014, and although the current council has not had a formal vote on the issue it seems that at least half of sitting councillors are in support of the project.
Some councillors remain skeptical however. In October, 2015 Councillor Lynne Reynolds introduced a motion asking for a business case for the project saying Council has never been given one. In February of this year some Councillors were dismayed when Tom Price, a vocal critic of the project, was allegedly considered for the Operations Committee agenda, then removed under unclear circumstances.
Kirwan said the decision to defer Price’s address to the committee was made in consultation with staff, but he wasn’t able to go into details.
“I can’t divulge the reason,” he said. “But it wasn’t unilaterally pulled. My understanding is the agenda was not set — we had discussed it, but it was never officially put on the agenda. And in discussion with staff, it was agreed that it wasn’t an appropriate time.”
There is now a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman about this meeting.
Like any long-standing municipal infrastructure project of this size there’s never just one vote to approve or reject the project, and it’s unclear at the moment which way such a vote would go with this council.
At the Provincial and Federal level all local representatives have expressed support for Maley. It’s hard to reject an idea premised on reducing commute times and creating jobs.
The Province has committed to funding 1/3 of the project if the Federal government also funds 1/3, although there has not yet been a funding announcement from the new Federal government.
Liars, Damn Liars and Engineers
City staff, for their part, have been steadfast in their support of the project. The city’s webpage for Maley Drive includes links to reports, videos and maps all of which unreservedly support the project.
The reports use traffic counts and projections to show that the new road would reduce travel times, emissions and costs, resulting in a net economic benefit to the city.
But Mr. Price has gained a lot of attention for rebutting these claims proving that not even engineers can agree on the subject. Many arm-chair engineers and planners have pored over the city’s reports to poke holes in their calculations and conclusions, but up until now the city hasn’t bother to rebut anything.
Websites and organizations like Strong Towns and the Streetsblog Network sometimes catch wind of new highway projects like this and bring more critical attention than would be attracted locally. So far Maley Drive seems to be a purely local concern despite the potential for large Provincial and Federal expenditure on the project.
Transportation planning advocates tend to repeat research that has shown time after time that new roads do not reduce congestion and actually increase the numbers of vehicles on the road. New capacity is quickly consumed by additional drivers who had previously used alternatives to driving or travelled at different times because of the inconvenience of using congested roads. With new capacity available these individuals start driving again, or people move into homes that were previously inconvenient to commute from. The result is the promise of free-flowing traffic quickly evaporates.
However, these scenarios usually play out in areas with growing populations and congested roads. It’s hard to say Sudbury meets that description.
The population of the City of Greater Sudbury has been growing very slowly over the past 10-15 years and the high-growth scenarios, like the orange line above illustrates, are usually premised on some unforeseeable spike in mining activity in the region, but we’ve been waiting for that spike for decades now.
And as for congestion:
This video was taken at 9am on LaSalle Boulevard on a weekday to show what kind of traffic congestion the Maley Extension is meant to relieve. By 9am most people are already at work, so I wouldn’t rely too heavily on this to demonstrate a lack of need for traffic relief. Even still, I wouldn’t call congestion on LaSalle an issue unless it was still bumper to bumper at 9am.
You’ll notice from the above video that LaSalle is a major commercial arterial, with many homes and businesses located on it and adjacent to it. The Maley Extension will not reduce the numbers of people who patronize these businesses or live in these homes, so while some commuter traffic is likely to be redirected to Maley, daytime and weekend traffic on LaSalle will likely remain the same.
But I said I wasn’t going to critique the project.
As a transportation planning nerd/hobbyist I almost want to see Maley built just to see if the theory of induced demand plays out in this scenario. But the mayor has recently suggested that Maley will also facilitate new development, so this might not turn out to be a good “control” for the theory afterall. Only time will tell.