On the very verge of long term planning?

There is a great article in today’s Herald about the increase in average age of Nova Scotia’s infrastructure.

The article, here (until the Herald hides it after a week,) says that Nova Scotia has the oldest infrastructure in Canada with an average age of “18 years in 2007 — 1.7 years more than the Canadian average.”

It later goes into some detail:

“The Statistics Canada study said the average age of Nova Scotia’s roads and highways dropped to 16.3 in 2007 from 18.5 in 2001, making it the fourth-oldest road network, behind Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nova Scotia’s bridges and overpasses had an average age of 28.6 years in 2007, second-oldest after Quebec and up from 24.2 years in 2001.

The province’s water supply system is younger, thanks to large investments in recent years, dropping to an average of 17 years in 2007 from 19.3 in 2004. Nova Scotia’s water treatment facilities are also newer, going to an average of 16.8 years in 2007 from 19.7 in 2003.

But sewer systems in the province have been steadily aging due to low investment rates, reaching an average age of 19.7 years in 2007 compared with 14.3 in 1981, according to the study.”

What does this mean? It means we know how old the “stuff” is. This is a nice thing to know but to key things are missing. One being – how old the “stuff” should be. The other is – how much do you need to spend each year on maintanance so it can make it to the end of its useful life?

Is a bridge supposed to be useful, in most cases, for 40 years? Or is it 50 years? What about water? Sewer? Most of these things have a life span that is known and accepted, for maintenance, planning and depreciation purposes.

Once we know how long something should last, the age of the infrastructure comes into play. If bridges are supposed to last 40 years, then the average age needs to be 20 years. This would mean the province was managing the assets properly, and that they were being replaced on a regular enough basis that none became “too old.”

The next issue is maintainance. Nova Scotia loves to build stuff, and then let it rot. While it would cost more money to get on a regular maintainance schedule, and overcome our deferred maintenance backlog, once we were there, it would save a tremendous amount of money.

It is just common sense that it is cheaper to plug the holes in a roof than it is to deal with water damage, rot and decay after ignoring the holes.

Again, there are accepted percentages, based on the replacement value of an item of infrastructure, that needs to be spent to maintainance. Two percent on a building, say, or one percent on a bridge, or road.

If these were established, the target age, and the ideal maintanance cost, the public and the politicians could then know “this is what it costs to maintain and replace our infrastructure every year.”

This is planning! We could know what we should be spending, and then start making decisions about what we need to do to achieve this goal. Will the politicians and bureaucrats of Nova Scotia deliver this true picture of the state of our infrastructure? Only time will tell.