Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Price is Right- Infrastructure Edition

Although it may not be as sexy as a new park or sleek steel tower, infrastructure is what the city is all about. It mostly goes unnoticed, at least until something goes wrong with it – like when nothing comes out of the water faucet when you turn it on, or a boat-sized pot hole turns up on Deerfoot Trail. It's the meat and potatoes/ the bread and butter of any city development. And it, along with costs, are often hidden away.

Wikipedia defines Infrastructure as "the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function…The term typically refers to the technical structures that support a society, such as roads, water supply, sewers, electrical grid, telecommunications and so forth."

Since taking a class on urban infrastructure, I've become slightly more aware of this often overlooked aspect of the city. How does a sewer system work exactly? Is pavement still made the same way as it was 50 years ago? What happens to that huge mound of garbage piling up in the landfill after it's dumped?

But if we were to play The Price is Right- Infrastructure Edition, could you guess how much any of it actually costs? Ever ponder how much that new hulking overpass you drive by once a year costs to construct? How about the annual maintenance fees for the Calf Robe bridge? What about the cost to run brand new electrical and water lines all the way out to a new suburb? My guess is you don't know. Haven't got a clue. And why should you know? It's not as if this information gets passed along to you everyday. Or sometimes ever.

Sure, sure, we all know the cost of the Peace Bridge. Most people can throw that number around at every dinner party they attend. But why do they know this? Only because it became a media sensation. Only because you couldn't open up a newspaper, or read a local news website or blog without seeing it in EXTRA LARGE BOLD TYPE. Only because this oft hidden cost was made public (over and over and over again!)

And besides, it's a great story involving an international superstar architect and state of the art bridge construction. Oh, and for once, its infrastructure designed for pedestrians and cyclists, not cars! (gasp)

Just for kicks, lets look at some other (lesser known) infrastructure costs. Here's my personal favourite - its actually Alberta's biggest infrastructure cost in the province's history (no it's not a bridge) – It's the 3 billion dollar twin power lines that will be built between Calgary and Edmonton. Yes, I said BILLION. Still not interested?

I wonder why this isn't being talked about around the dinner table with that kind of price tag. Is it that power lines just aren't that much fun to talk about, while a perky red, centrally located pedestrian bridge is? Possibly. But its worth taking a closer look at. Maybe it's because it hasn't been brought to your attention yet. (over and over and over again)

Did you know that the provincial government assigned the two power lines to ATCO and Altalink without any public hearings or a competitive procurement process? Although they do promise to establish a competitive procurement process in the future, they hadn't quite gotten around to it for this $3 billion investment. Well, its only the most expensive infrastructural cost in Alberta's history, why make such a fuss?

Isn't it time we bring all of these costs out in the open so people can become more aware of what it really costs to build a city? That the new parkade, suburban power station and interchange come with a price tag too? Why just focus on one bridge?

For more information about the $3 billion twin power lines visit

Did I read that correctly? A Landfill Gas Collection System Extension at Shepard Landfill costs almost $60 million dollars? And that's not all. For an additional $60 million you can get a road upgrade going to that landfill!

Who knew?

For a list of over 300 capital projects (with costs) currently going on in Calgary, visit

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