This week’s guest commentary comes from Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Municipal funding for rural road and bridge improvements was on the agenda at a recent meeting between the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus (WOWC). The meeting is the latest in a series between the two organizations in an effort to collaborate on common issues affecting rural Ontario. Combined, the two organizations, OFA and WOWC, represent more than 2.25 million Ontario residents and farm businesses.
The topic of discussion was the former Connecting Links program. Connecting Links provided funding for roads and bridges extending through municipal boundaries. In 2013, the program was terminated by the Ministry of Transportation. Connecting Links was a critical funding source for the maintenance of more than 335 km of roads and 70 bridges within 77 municipalities.
Funding cuts to programs such as Connecting Links are the latest in the ongoing struggle rural municipalities face in their efforts to maintain and improve foundational infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ditches. OFA and WOWC will work together to help the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Infrastructure understand the significance of this funding source with a goal of reinstating Connecting Links or a similar program.
The meeting and the topic are timely with the recent government budget commitment of $130 billion over the next 10 years for infrastructure improvements. With $14 billion of those funds ear marked for regions outside of the GTA and the Hamilton area, the OFA and rural municipalities are eager to know more about the funding details.
OFA will be at the table to ensure the needs of rural municipalities are heard and understood. OFA will continue working closely with rural municipal governments to help prioritize infrastructure investment at the local level. OFA is invested in helping rural municipalities access these new funding sources. Agriculture needs solid roads and bridges to maintain the efficient flow of our produce to markets, properly designed roadways and bridges to safely accommodate large agricultural machinery and well maintained drainage ditches for water management.
We’ve laid the groundwork for a solid working relationship with municipalities and municipal representatives such as WOWC. It’s important we continue working closely with these groups to make sure agriculture is considered in regional infrastructure investments.