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    Public Infrastructures: Will our money be well spent? By Zaki Ghavitian, Eng., President of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec

    jeudi 14 février 2008
    • The Québec government's recent announcement of roadwork that will cost some $12 billion between now and 2012, with $3 billion to be spent this year, is excellent news. It expresses its manifest desire to invest the resources necessary to upgrade our public infrastructures. Still, the billions mentioned must not cause us to lose sight of an unavoidable reality, because money is only part of the solution. It is just as important to make sure that this money is spent wisely, from the perspective of quality and long-term safety, in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.
    • The La Concorde Commission (CEVC) gave Québec a way to learn lessons from a disaster that should never have happened. In its brief to the CEVC, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec particularly insisted on the necessity of long-term infrastructure management. The excellent CEVC report adopted most of the OIQ's recommendations on highway structures. The day after the report was tabled, the Minister of Transport affirmed that her department would comply with the Commission's recommendations and announced the creation of the Agence de gestion des structures routières.

      Included in the OIQ recommendations was that all managers of public infrastructures, whether departments or municipalities, be obliged to establish long-term maintenance plans for the infrastructures they are responsible for.

      To be effective, such plans must be accompanied by ten-year investment programs, intended to ensure faultless security and good long-term service levels at the lowest possible cost to society. These programs must be subject to an independent authority responsible for approving them, making them equivalent to the treatment and care programs prepared by physicians on the basis of diagnoses and complete medical records -- with the difference being that no sensible person would have allowed their health to deteriorate to the degree that our roads had.

      The OIQ formulated other recommendations on technical and professional resources, the contracting process and, in particular, the supervision of engineering works. As of now, there is no obligation for a client to use the services of an engineer to ensure that a structure is built in accordance with the approved engineering plans and drawings. The OIQ believes this is an anomaly that needs to be fixed.

      The report came out in October 2007. Since then, the government has announced an ambitious investment program. However, no concrete measures to ensure that this money will be well spent have yet been announced. The draft bill creating the Agence de gestion des structures routières and the implementation of real management measures had not been passed at the end of the last session of the National Assembly.

      Furthermore, besides the road structures that are finally receiving the attention they need, the management and quality measures recommended by the OIQ must also be applied to roads of all sizes, including municipal structures and roadways, as well as to other public infrastructures, especially municipal drinking water and sewer systems. This area has not yet seen any concrete announcements.

      While the money is there, one essential element is still missing: the tools and rules that society must adopt to make sure that its money is well spent. It is a question of safety, protection and the public interest all at once. Action must be taken before construction begins.

      About the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec
      Founded in 1920, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec has a membership of more than 60,000 engineering professionals in all fields, except forest engineering.
      The mission of the OIQ is to ensure the protection of the public by supervising the practice of the profession within the framework of its constituent laws and ensure that the profession serves the public interest.

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