OTTAWA — From bridge repair to faster rail service, Tuesday’s federal budget promises potential millions in infrastructure spending that the Ottawa area could tap.

The national $4-billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, for example, will be available for projects that can begin in 2009 or 2010, but will cover only up to 50 per cent of eligible project costs. Similar restrictions apply to other initiatives, including $500 million to build and upgrade community recreation facilities. The federal government expects the remaining 50 per cent of the costs are to be picked up by provincial and municipal governments, as well as the private sector.

This is a change from previous policy, however, which usually required each government to pay one-third of the costs.

Social housing could benefit from a one-time federal injection of $1 billion over the next two years, but renovation and other improvement costs are to be shared 50-50 with the province. The same thing goes for $400 million earmarked for housing for low-income seniors, as well as another $75 million for housing for people with disabilities.

Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien praised the budget for providing funding that helps cities and measures that will help families and create jobs.

“This is the best budget that I’ve seen in many, many years. This will stimulate the economy. It’s going to create jobs. It’s giving tax relief to lower- and middle-income people,” said Mr. O’Brien. “I think this is a brilliant budget. It will be very, very well received. Hats off to them.”

The city doesn’t know what specific projects will go ahead yet but the mayor said the budget will accelerate the city’s capital projects.

Ottawa Councillor Peter Hume, who is president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said he is generally impressed with the budget but especially pleased with funding to renovate social housing. He said that the budget could mean something in the order of $30 million worth of improvements to Ottawa’s social housing alone, which is several times the city’s normal annual spending on repairs.

The budget calls for $42 million to be spent repairing federal bridges, including in the National Capital Region. Bridges expected to receive a portion of this new cash injection include the Alexandra and Chaudière bridges, the latter which was closed briefly before Christmas and is now down to one lane, thanks to structural damage that was discovered as part of a routine inspection.

The government is making $323 million available over the next two years to repair federal buildings, as well as another $20 million to make federally owned buildings more accessible to Canadians with disabilities. However, it’s unclear how much of that money will be spent in the capital region, as the government intends for that money to spent on buildings across Canada.

The Conservatives have put aside $2 billion to pay half the costs of repair projects at post-secondary institutions, “based on project merit and readiness.” On a representative list of “repair, refurbishment, and expansion projects,” the budget mentions Algonquin College.

Ottawa will also benefit from $407 million being invested into VIA Rail, where the government will focus on improving the speed and frequency of service in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor. Mr. O'Brien singled that spending out for praise, saying better rail service will spur economic growth along the corridor.

An additional track will be installed at “key locations” along the corridor, including at Brockville and Cobourg. This will allow VIA to offer several express trains to and from Toronto each day, shaving at least 30 minutes from the total travel time, to three-and-a-half hours.

The budget also earmarks $75 million for Parks Canada to upgrade national historic sites, with a specific emphasis on sprucing up sites associated with the War of 1812 in time for the 200th anniversary celebrations, again making it unclear how much money might be available for Ottawa sites.

Part of an $80-million investment on Canada-U.S. border facilities will go to modernizing and expanding the bridge at Prescott, while several other elements of yesterday’s budget could benefit several communities in Eastern Ontario.

Measures that may benefit smaller communities include:

- $50 million to be spent over the next three years to increase slaughterhouse capacity across Canada may benefit the Pontiac region.

-$225 million over three years to Industry Canada to develop and implement a strategy to extend broadband coverage to unserved communities beginning in fiscal 2010

- $500 million over the next two years for infrastructure projects in small communities on a cost-sharing basis

To help employees who may be hurt by the economy — and perhaps of particular interest to employees of Nortel — the government will also spend $50 million over two years to cover severance owed to eligible employees of bankrupt companies, $500 million to extend employment income benefits for workers in longer-term training, and extending EI benefits by five weeks to a total of 50 weeks.

With files from Patrick Dare