Good money after bad

Finally, someone said something.

We have watched with some surprise in recent weeks as one after the other, six of the lower-tier municipalities in Wellington County provided in-principle support of a proposed Active Transportation Plan.

Behind the scenes and off the record, several councillors expressed grave concerns with the proposal, but when confronted by representatives of the committee in charge of developing the 1,000km, $24-million network, municipal representatives have backed the proposal with barely a whisper of debate – until Monday night.

Guelph-Eramosa councillors took issue with the massive price tag for the plan, but also questioned the safety of adding bike lanes on the shoulders of busy county roads. Councillor Doug Breen, who was the most outspoken of the five-member council, was right to point out portions of the plan are unsafe and a waste of tax dollars that could be better spent on other projects.

Also disconcerting was the statement from proponents that the entire plan – which has already cost about $60,000 to develop, including $3,000 from each municipality – was driven by the desire of county residents.

We do not once recall an outpouring of cries for such a grandiose scheme. And we suspect the majority of county residents will not appreciate footing the $24-million bill to have a plan forced on them that will benefit perhaps a few hundred of the county’s 90,000 residents.

When faced with questions about the budget, proponents have suggested the 20-year time frame for implementation could be expanded to 25 to 40 years (then why not 60? Or 100?). This is a clear signal of wavering support for sketchy plan details.

Proponents have also stressed the county will be covering most of the costs, but as Guelph-Eramosa Mayor and county Warden Chris White pointed out, there really is only one taxpayer.

Quite frankly, the financial numbers in the plan are mind boggling and, considering the rate of return, make little sense, particularly when municipalities, already struggling with their own debt, have countless  more urgent infrastructure projects to address that will actually benefit the majority of residents.

Add to that a period of economic uncertainty – including a possible recession, further turmoil in the housing market and the U.S. “fiscal cliff” that if left unresolved will impact all of North America – and this plan seems like a misguided pipe dream.

Glaring safety issues and burdensome financial commitments aside, the active transportation plan still doesn’t make much sense.

Who is ever going to walk, bike or run from Morriston to Clifford? Or from Moorefield to Erin? Next to no one. The fact is, municipalities in the county already have their own trails, and many have made concerted efforts in recent years to improve and expand that infrastructure.

Connecting by trail smaller urban areas within each municipality makes sense, but introducing a county-wide scheme that looks more like a Nickelodeon treasure map is foolhardy.

The whole concept of “active transportation” is itself a bit of a misnomer. It’s become one of the popular buzz terms that otherwise well-meaning bureaucrats have bought into with unwavering fervour – often at the expense of common sense and anything even resembling fiscal restraint.

This plan sounds great politically (after all, who could be opposed to residents getting more active?), but it’s a disaster financially and logistically.

Residents already have a plethora of recreational options at their disposal. Sure, some unwisely choose to ignore those activities in favour of a sedentary lifestyle, but that’s their choice.

Forcing on all residents a multi-million dollar boondoggle that benefits few is clearly not the answer.