What Does Ontario’s Infrastructure Future Look Like?

We explore the most prevalent themes across Ontario infrastructure planning based on data from 16,000 upcoming projects.

Allie Parks
June 23, 2021

A word cloud of the most common phrases from 16,000+ planned infrastructure projects in Ontario.

Citylitics has amassed the largest dataset on planned municipal capital projects in Ontario, with approximately 16,000 upcoming infrastructure projects aggregated from 85 Ontario municipalities.

Today, we outline the most prevalent themes in infrastructure planning so that business development professionals can prioritize where they want to focus time and effort, including strengthening relationships and aligning their sales strategy to market needs.

Urban migration, extreme weather events, and deteriorating infrastructure mean that Ontario municipalities have no shortage of options for where to put their money. Citylitics consolidated details on trends that range from severe, overdue disaster mitigation strategies to forward-looking upgrades in bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Here we focus on 4 of the most prevalent trends:

  1. Capacity constraints from population changes
  2. Replacement of deteriorating infrastructure
  3. Sustainability and climate resiliency initiatives
  4. Multi-modal active transportation upgrades

Capacity Constraints

Ontario’s population has increased steadily for decades, with over a 12% population increase over the past 10 years. But what’s happening within the province has the most interesting implications for the public sector. Demographic changes within the province, largely driven by COVID-19, have residents in large metropolitan areas dispersing to smaller communities. Roughly 75,000 people moved out of Toronto and Montreal alone in the past year, largely due to a shifting employment landscape among several other factors.

By examining the word choice in the project descriptions of the CIPs, we’re able to isolate signal words most common in both water and wastewater projects to get a glimpse of the rationale behind the prioritization of capacity & population-based projects, along with overall spend from projects mentioning each keyword. At Citylitics, these syntaxical unigrams are one type of building block search queries performed against our ever-growing data warehouse.  Our analysis has shown that they ultimately uncover more relevant insights within the municipal data space and serve as a leading indicator for our clients on how to prioritize uncovered opportunities.

Population shifts impact most municipal departments, but particularly plague transportation and water/wastewater infrastructure. Here, we’ve isolated the transportation and utility projects in planned over the next 10 years in Ontario. Highlighted are the most common singular unigrams indicating growth-related project needs, along with the overall cost associated with projects mentioning these keywords.

Smaller communities seeing a population surge will have to deal with the capacity constraints on transportation and utility infrastructure far sooner than anticipated in many cases. Nearly a couple hundred projects signal likely capacity constraints as a project justification, such as road widening and treatment plant expansions, while over 100 projects in Ontario capital plans specifically mentioned “capacity” in a project description. Capacity issues for water and wastewater infrastructure is the most “expensive” keyword for utilities, with $1.2 Billion allocated in the coming years to address. Capacity shortages may lead to a shortage of safe drinking water, provincial or federal fines, and even health concerns. Once facilities reach roughly 80% capacity, municipalities typically have no choice but to pursue upgrades, expansions, or new facilities. In transportation departments, traffic and safety issues are a concern among officials. Road widening is one of the most common growth-associated call-outs in capital project descriptions, with just under $1 Billion planned for the coming years. Traffic issues may be more likely to be deferred during budget shortfalls, but resident complaints and safety concerns will likely put pressure on entities to pursue upgrades as soon as possible.

Replacement of Deteriorating Infrastructure

Many cities published 2020 budgets only to find them completely derailed once lockdowns began in March. Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in the public transit sector. In Toronto, ridership fell by 86%, costing the TTC $94 Million monthly in lost revenue. As cities and counties tightened their belts, they were faced with difficult decisions on which capital projects to push forward, and which to defer, decisions that many communities were already familiar with well before COVID-19’s impact. “Poor conditions”, “repair and replacement”, “useful life”, and “remaining life” were common in the most recent CIPs in Ontario as entities grapple with how long they can scrape by with crumbling infrastructure. Prolonged deferments also lead to unexpected maintenance and replacement costs, incentivizing municipalities to act. By focusing on CIP projects mentioning “rehabilitation” specifically, we can take a quick look at where entities are spending their maintenance dollars.

Almost 400 projects specifically mention “rehab” or “rehabilitation” in the project description. Of these:

  • Half are related to roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure (50%)
  • 21% of rehab projects were focusing on wastewater and sanitary sewer upgrades
  • Drinking water treatment projects come in third at 10% of projects
  • 8% of rehab projects focus on stormwater
  • 6% focus on parks and recreation
  • The final 5% of rehab projects are focused on municipal-owned airports, building, and electrical upgrades

Total spend among these ~400 rehabilitation projects is dominated by transportation, water, and wastewater infrastructure specifically.

  • Transportation Infrastructure: $762.5 Million
  • Wastewater/Sanitary Sewer: $637.8 Million
  • Drinking Water: $226.2 Million

Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Initiatives

Disaster mitigation is a huge focus for municipalities, with Infrastructure Canada committing to $1.4 Billion across the country for disaster mitigation and adaptation over the next 12 years, half of which is focused on small projects. 66 planned projects specifically mention floods or flooding alone in Ontario CIPs, and as the most costly natural disaster in Ontario, municipalities are highly incentivized to act. Flooding is not the sole environmental concern however, with 54 projects mention “resiliency”, “adaptation”, or “mitigation” specifically in the project description.

Flood-Related Capital Projects can be explored further using the Citylitics Explorer Widget below. Slice the data by Project Status or by Project Start Year. More detailed information on each project is available as a dataset from Citylitics.

Electric vehicle adaptations in Ontario are also picking up steam, with 11 upcoming projects centered around either municipal fleet conversions, charging stations or electric vehicle studies. The average cost for electric vehicle projects came in at $5.7 Million, with the most substantial expenditures typically centered around new charging stations. Many other climate studies are likely to explore these initiatives more specifically in years to come. Multiple project descriptions mentioned funding options from the federal Zero Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure Program.

Ontario has also been a leader for water reuse and biogas/waste-to-energy production in Canada, with some of the best rates in North America for renewable electricity from biogas and a section dedicated to biogas regulations on the provincial website. 13 projects mention biogas or reuse in Ontario, with the average cost for projects coming in at $4.5 Million.

Active Transportation

In March 2021, Canada announced its first federal fund for active transportation projects, with $400 Million allocated over 5 years. Ahead of this announcement, “active transportation” was referenced 53 times in CIPs across 12 Ontario cities, a trend that is likely to gain further momentum given the new funding. Active transportation is broadly defined as human-powered transportation, with capital upgrades commonly focused on pedestrian and bike paths. COVID-19 has led to a huge surge in bike popularity, which CBC referred to as a cycling ‘renaissance’ in a recent article detailing a trend that has persisted since lockdowns first began last spring. BBC refers to this surge as the “great bicycle boom”, noting that ridership on US trails has increased threefold in an article that explores the causes and effects of this phenomenon.

Municipalities appear to be along for the ride (no pun intended). Ontario initiatives include both planning and implementation of active transportation projects. Several entities are either undergoing studies or creating full master plans specifically for active and multi-modal transportation. Apart from new and rehabilitated sidewalks, bike paths, and pedestrian bridges, upcoming capital projects associated with active transportation in Ontario include road widening initiatives, pedestrian crosswalks, new or updated signage, and bike parking options. While active transportation appears to be a popular buzzword, it’s not the only identifier for these projects. The Ontario CIPs also include 9 references to “multi-modal” upgrades, 58 projects mentioning bicycles specifically, 120 projects mentioning pedestrians, and 139 and 191 projects mentioning trails and sidewalk respectively.

Here, we breakdown vehicle type mentions in transportation projects by year, as well as project distribution to spend by year and mode of transportation. While separating expenditures is a challenge given many projects incorporate all three modes of transportation, we can see that this year, and in 2024 and 2025, bike and pedestrian infrastructure account for a larger piece of the market.

Summary

As with the trends outlined above, Citylitics provides early stage intelligence on a wide range of project types, from infrastructure upgrades to future looking transportation and smart city initiatives. With significant investment anticipated for the infrastructure industry in North America over the next few years, Citylitics helps clients better direct their efforts by consolidating precise insights from a fragmented public sector landscape, whether that’s in Ontario or any other jurisdiction’s infrastructure planning.

With the right data-driven insights, business development professionals have the ability to strengthen relationships and close deals in a proactive way, long before the RFP, not during.

 

 

 

 

 

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