How to Evaluate the Maley Decision

Thanks to the Mayor we now have the measures of success clearly defined. In twenty years we’ll be able to look back and determine if the Maley Extension was a good idea or not.

Project evaluation is an invaluable part of the decision-making process because it is the only way to learn from the successes and failures of a project. At $80 million just for Phase 1 we will certainly want to look back and decide if Maley was a worthwhile expense. But what will be the measures of its success?

 

In preparation of the 2036 evaluation of the Maley Extension project we need to establish our benchmarks now, so we have something to compare in the future. Thankfully, the Mayor has already gotten started.

On Tuesday Mayor Bigger will introduce a motion for Council to re-affirm its support for the Maley Extension project:

Maley Drive Extension
As presented by Mayor Bigger,

WHEREAS Maley Drive Extension has been identified as a priority for new road construction and envisaged in the Official Plan as part of the proposed major road network and a foundational element of our transportation network needs;

AND WHEREAS, the overall construction of the Maley Drive Extension will create approximately 780 jobs and contribute an estimated $135.5 million net economic value, reduce traffic by as much as 10,000 vehicles a day on Lasalle Boulevard, and 4,000 vehicles a day on the Kingsway, remove heavy truck traffic from major arterial routes, enhance safety, improve access to core business and retail areas of the city and increase the efficiency of transporting aggregate and ore within the City of Greater Sudbury;

AND WHEREAS, the cost-benefit analysis provides a direct benefit to drivers through reduced travel times resulting in a positive economic benefit;

AND WHEREAS the provincial government has agreed to allocate $26.7 million towards the first phase of the project and the federal government has expressed interest in financing the project;

AND WHEREAS, the Maley Drive extension would improve mobility, efficiency, safety and environmental sustainability consistent with the Building Canada Fund program;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council reaffirms its support for the Maley Drive Extension project, and directs staff to continue working with our federal partners on securing funding from the Building Canada Fund to ensure the timely completion of this valuable community project.

Council may choose to amend the motion prior to adopting it, but assuming it remains as is it very conveniently sets out the assumptions on which Council’s decision will be made and the expectations for what the Maley Extension should accomplish.

Here are the things that will tell us in twenty years if the Maley Extension was a good idea:

“a foundational element of our transportation network needs”

If, in twenty years, Maley Drive becomes the backbone for new transportation links, then that’s a point in the “Success” column.

On the other hand, if we build the Maley Extension and in twenty years the Barry Downe Extension is no closer to reality, or bike lanes still haven’t been installed on LaSalle, or express bus service still hasn’t materialized as a result, that’s a point in the “Failure” column.

“the overall construction of the Maley Drive Extension will create approximately 780 jobs”

The Mayor refers to “overall construction”, but staff say Phase 1 alone will result in 780 jobs so that should be easy to verify at completion of the project.

A point in the “Success” column if it employs 780 or more (without increasing costs); a point in the “Failure” column if it employs less than 780 people, or if it employs more but increases costs.

“contribute an estimated $135.5 million net economic value”

I’m not an economist, so I don’t know how this is calculated, but if the project is projected to contribute $135 million in net economic value, then someone should be able to verify whether it succeeds. If a measure like this can’t be verified after the fact, then it shouldn’t be used to justify the project.

“reduce traffic by as much as 10,000 vehicles a day on Lasalle Boulevard, and 4,000 vehicles a day on the Kingsway”

This seems like the easiest indicator to measure, but we’ll have to be careful. We can count cars just before the Maley Extension is completed and count them right after and if traffic is reduced on LaSalle and the Kingsway we can put a point in the “Success” column. But, we should all hope Maley isn’t the only thing that gets built in our city in the next twenty years. Other infrastructure projects like the widening of Barry Downe Road and various development projects will affect traffic flow. Even something like the closure of the South End Wal-Mart (hypothetical, but possible) would likely result in more traffic on LaSalle as shoppers migrate to that location.

By the same token, if the New Sudbury Wal-Mart closes, that could take thousands of vehicles off LaSalle as well. We’ll need to carefully account for all other influences to determine if Maley is a “Success” or a “Failure” in terms of diverting traffic.

A second value judgement that won’t be made is whether taking 10,000 vehicles off of a major commercial corridor is a good thing anyway. With that large a reduction in traffic vehicle speeds are likely to increase, and businesses along this stretch will have reduced exposure to potential customers.

“remove heavy truck traffic from major arterial routes”

This will be another easy measure, but it will need to be expressed as a percentage of truck traffic. Global economic factors will determine how many mining trucks we have on our roads at any time, so a simple count of trucks on major arterial routes won’t provide a good measure of success.

If the percentage of heavy trucks on major arterial routes goes down, a point in the “Success” column. If the percentage goes up, a point in the “Failure” column.

“enhance safety”

If there are fewer motor vehicle collisions, a “Success”. If motor vehicle collisions go up, a “Failure”.

“improve access to core business and retail areas of the city”

The Maley Extension does not provide an alternate route to any core business and retail areas of the city. Instead it functions as a by-pass of these areas. This statement must be read in connection with the idea that heavy truck traffic on LaSalle and the Kingsway discourages economic activity on these roads. Therefore, without the heavy truck traffic, more people will access these businesses.

But if more people access these businesses, won’t that result in an increase to the number of vehicles on these roads?

“Success” in this measure might mean “Failure” in reducing the number of vehicles and vice versa.

“increase the efficiency of transporting aggregate and ore within the City of Greater Sudbury”

Measuring this will require participation from the aggregate and mining companies in the city. We’ll need to know how much time and fuel is spent today, and how much is spent in twenty years to determine if Maley succeeds or fails in this regard.

“a direct benefit to drivers through reduced travel times resulting in a positive economic benefit”

Another simple measure: Does it take less time to travel between the same origin and destination today, or after Maley is completed? The tougher question to answer is whether there’s a positive economic benefit, and to what degree.

Thankfully we have the cost-benefit analysis referenced in the motion to measure the success of the project against. If it correctly predicts travel times and dollar values of time saved then it is a “Success”. If not, then a “Failure”.

We could also survey residents and find out if they have more money left over at the end of the year as predicted by the cost-benefit analysis. If they don’t, then a “Failure”.

“improve mobility, efficiency, safety and environmental sustainability consistent with the Building Canada Fund program”

Mobility, efficiency and safety have all been touched on in other categories, but environmental sustainability has not.

We’re getting better and better at calculating carbon emissions and the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects. It will require a lot of math to figure out if the time saved by commuters offsets the huge carbon outputs generated from so much asphalt and concrete, and the destruction of natural spaces and wetlands. Furthermore, if the Maley Extension facilitates $135 million in economic activity we’ll need to take the environmental impacts of that economic activity into account as well.

 

The thing to do right now is to start collecting the base data for comparison. I’m sure that’s the first thing the city will do as soon as they know the project is going ahead. Then, in twenty years we’ll know whether or not we’ve made a huge mistake.

Once we have the “after” picture we’ll be able to use that as a benchmark of success for future projects. We can assess things like bike lanes, bus rapid transit and increase density of development and see if that would be just as effective at meeting these performance measures as a new road would be.

Of course by then, many of the people who helped make the Maley decision will have already cashed-in on the short-term benefits of the decision and will be in no position to pay any outstanding costs associated with the projects failures (if there are any).

Those costs will be left to our children, and the generations that follow. Forever.

One thought on “How to Evaluate the Maley Decision

  1. I have read that total traffic volume increases with increases in available lanes, that may be the result of a new road or the widening of existing roads. Maley may result in the same. If Maley was restricted to commercial or heavy traffic only, I’d be fine with it but it is not so I’m opposed to its construction.

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