Covid-19 and its effect on municipal infrastructure

26 June 2020 Consulting.ca

Municipalities will have to chart an effective infrastructure strategy to successfully weather the ongoing pandemic, according to a recent insight article from KPMG Canada.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on municipal governments – interrupting operations and cratering revenues. Infrastructure and facilities – key avenues for local program and service delivery – will play an important role as municipalities navigate the pandemic. Cities will have to examine how their ongoing investments in infrastructure enable programs and services, and how changes to plans will impact their ability to meet the needs of citizens.

According Ross Homeniuk, KPMG Canada’s leader for infrastructure asset & operations management, navigating the pandemic will require cities to travel through four distinct stages: reaction, resilience, recovery, and new reality.

Reaction

The last few months have focused on introducing measures to maintain or suspend programs in order to manage public health. The reactions have highlighted how the state and make-up of facilities and infrastructure have impacted agility and response capacity. Some common issues include antiquated technology which creates barriers to remote work; ties to facilities and equipment that have shut down programs; facility configuration which limits safety-based adaptability; and deferred maintenance for assets which still require attention and repair.

Reaction, resilience, recovery, and new reality for infrastructure

Resilience

Shrinking revenues have pressured municipalities to cut costs and defer non-urgent spending. KPMG advises that critical infrastructure works which impact safety and business continuity should proceed as planned. However, infrastructure spending with lesser impact may be a good candidate for deferral.

Master plans aimed at positioning municipalities for long-term success may also come under the knife, as delaying or canceling these works could provide financial and operational breathing room. Not yet initiated works could be a cleaner cut, while active projects will require consideration of logistical and contract issues.

Recovery

Infrastructure spending will play a major role in restarting the Canadian economy, with the federal government pushing out billions in targeted stimulus to the area. The stimulus programs will have tight timelines (as short as 18 to 24 months), which will require municipalities to pre-plan, according to KPMG. Cities will need to examine local needs and priorities, identify projects that can be accelerated and put forward, and consider ways to expedite the delivery process.

The federal funds will likely go to previously stated priorities – such as economic development, affordable housing and public transport – as well as issues from the pandemic like new laboratories, healthcare, and science and research facilities. Funds will also target "shovel-ready" projects such as deferred maintenance and direct replacement.

New reality

Some level of physical distancing will appear to be required indefinitely, and until a vaccine or effective treatment is found, there will be no return to a previous normality.

As such, there will be reduced demand for municipal office space and program-focused facilities, while remaining facilities will require retrofits with protective features. Remote work and fewer commuters will reduce peak traffic, while public transit will require a rethink and reconfiguration.

Water and wastewater demand and flow patterns will change, particularly in office-heavy and residential neighbourhoods.

The economic downturn, meanwhile, will increase demand for affordable housing even further. Parks and public spaces will likewise see a large increase in demand and patronage, and adaptation will be required for certain amenities and operations.


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