New distribution centre puts Regina in the game, but for how long?
by Gregory Beatty
Global Transportation Hub — it has quite the impressive ring to it. Much better than “intermodal cargo facility” which is technically what’s being built out west of the Regina International Airport.
And why shouldn’t we go with the grander title? Aspire to be that hub for global transportation? We’re centrally located in the supply chain of manufactured goods from Asia that get shipped to ports like Prince Rupert and Vancouver, then are off-loaded onto rail to be delivered to major population centres in central and eastern North America. We have solid road and rail infrastructure that we are investing in heavily to upgrade. And we also have a growing economy with significant export capacity. So maybe the idea of Regina being at the centre of the globalization action isn’t as crazy as it first seems.
At present, Canadian Pacific Railway’s operation in Regina, our biggest “link” in the aforementioned supply chain, is situated on a 20-acre patch of land downtown between Saskatchewan Drive and Dewdney Avenue.
But, when operational, CP’s new facility, which is being built on land annexed from the RM of Sherwood in 2008, will be 300 acres.
Already committed to the GTH is Loblaws (i.e. Superstore, Extra Foods) which is establishing a one million sq. ft. distribution centre there. It will service all of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of B.C. — fully one-tenth of Loblaws’ national distribution capacity.
At an early May forum hosted by Transport Action Prairie, a local group devoted to sustainable transportation, GTH CEO Blair Wagar recounted the history of the hub and what its potential economic benefits could be.
It was the former NDP government that green-lit the project, he said. The CP main line that runs through Regina won’t be moved, but the site where the trains arrive, and where containers are off-loaded onto trucks for delivery in Regina’s local distribution network, will shift to the GTH. According to Wagar, CP has outgrown its current facility, but there is no room to expand nearby.
At the GTH it’ll have 15 times the space.
To service Loblaws, CP will need it too. Loblaws has both a fresh-frozen and manufactured goods component to its operation, said Wagar. The former is mostly trucked up from California, while the latter is shipped in from Asia on rail. When Loblaws’ distribution centre is operational, it will employ 1,000-1,200 people. Trucking companies and other ancillary businesses anxious to serve Loblaws will also set up shop here.
Those aren’t the only economic benefits the GTH will provide, said Wagar.
“It [will also capture] containers for Saskatchewan shippers. There are a lot of manufacturers here, but there’s not a lot of containers that come to Saskatchewan to get unloaded versus the amount of goods that we have to ship out.
“The GTH offers us the opportunity to gather our manufactured goods, get them onto the global supply chain, and move stuff out to other global markets,” said Wagar.
“At the end of the day, that’s why the province is mostly interested in this.”
To make the GTH happen, the municipal, provincial and federal governments have all committed money. During his talk, Wagar emphasized that the public funding was limited to infrastructure like roads, water and sewer. Actual facilities like warehouses and rail lines are being paid for by the companies themselves.
The public infrastructure commitment isn’t limited to the GTH site. At peak capacity, an estimated 1,400 heavy trucks a week will deliver goods to and from the GTH. To avoid congestion, a new bypass is being built at the junction of Hwy #1 and Lewvan Drive in southwest Regina. Upgrades to Pinkie Road are also underway to improve the connection between Hwys #1 and 11, and a new bypass will also be needed in southeast Regina to route traffic around the city on Hwy #1. As well, improvements are needed to the North Portal highway to facilitate north-south traffic, with Estevan possibly getting its own bypass.
So yes, the GTH is definitely ambitious.
But is it sustainable? That’s a concern that Transport Action Prairie president Catherine Verrall had after Wagar’s presentation.
“I wouldn’t say our organization is totally against this,” she added. “But we do have concerns. There’s a book out by Jeff Rubin called Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. I really wonder how long this dependence on cheap energy is going to work for the hub idea.”
In his book Rubin argues that, until now, the shift that’s occurred over the last 40 years to global manufacturing and distribution networks has been fueled by a steady supply of cheap oil ruthlessly extracted without regard for the environmental consequences.
As supply dwindles, the price will inevitably climb, and transportation costs will start to become prohibitive.
“It’s going to be that China won’t be able to send its goods all over the world,” said Verrall. “The same thing will happen here. We’re going to have to grow our own vegetables and make do with what we can get closer at hand or do without.
“I don’t think people are taking seriously the fact that these changes are coming, and that they’re coming a lot faster than we expect,” she concluded.
A HOLE THAT MUST BE FILLED
On Sept. 8, the province announced that it had reached a conditional sales agreement with CP to purchase the 20 acres between Saskatchewan Drive and Dewdney Avenue that will be vacated when their transportation hub moves to the west side of the city.
Doubtless you’ve heard that land is earmarked to be the site of a (contentious, to some) domed stadium that the province, city and other funding partners are contemplating building.
Back in June, before the sale agreement was even in the cards, Downtown senior planner Chris Sale noted that the city already had Office for Urbanism (the Toronto outfit that developed the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan) look at what the planning potential might be for that space once it’s developed.
One priority will be to enhance the connection between the Warehouse District and the Downtown. “That was definitely part of the work that [OFU] did, and while it’s not directly mentioned in the Downtown Plan, it’s certainly contemplated that we would want to strengthen those connections,” says Sale.
“The Plan also recommends residential development on Albert, Broad and Sask Drive,” he adds. “So I could imagine a secondary plan for the CP lands might reinforce that recommendation. We might see some on Dewdney Ave. as well.” /Gregory Beatty