Could Smart Growth keep MPH away?

Dennis Smith - The Burlington Post Feb. 28, 03.

Will Smart Growth help keep the controversial mid peninsula highway from this area?
Mayor Rob MacIsaac said yesterday (Thursday) he's heartened by the Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel's recent discussion paper.

"It's premature to say the panel is opposed to the highway going through Burlington," said MacIsaac, who's a panel member. "But things are encouraging."

The mayor had spoken Tuesday about the discussion paper at a public meeting about the proposed highway. The session was organized by the City of Burlington, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment and Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment. Ministry of Transportation officials were not involved in this meeting.

The Smart Growth panel hasn't specifically addressed the proposed highway from Niagara to Hamilton/Halton, MacIsaac told the Post. But it has endorsed the concept of a trade corridor starting at the U.S. border in Niagara that goes around the Greater Toronto Area.

"The panel didn't see the economic corridor feeding into Burlington," he said. "The highway is not viewed as an extension of Hwy. 407. It skirts the GTA and Hamilton."

MacIsaac said the panel was dealing with a conceptual route and not specifically the mid peninsula highway. "But the concept is more consistent with a highway heading north rather than stopping in Burlington."

He added the panel doesn't necessarily favour having the mid peninsula route connect with Hwy. 401 west of Milton. Hwy. 401 is one of four possible connections for the proposed highway.

Other alternatives under consideration include connections with Hwy. 407 in Burlington, Hwy. 6 in Flamborough or Hwy. 403 on Hamilton Mountain.

MacIsaac cited two other Smart Growth panel statements he considered encouraging
"The panel has said public transit should be the government's first priority in terms of new infrastructure," he noted. "This is consistent with what COPE and the city have been saying about transit corridors."

The other panel statement is that the Niagara Escarpment deserves the highest level of protection.

A recent effort to have affected municipalities ask for a comprehensive highway planning process has ended, he said. Events have overtaken that initiative, said MacIsaac.
Local residents have demanded more time for the environment assessment terms of reference stage, which determines how to examine the route or its alternatives. Currently, the public has until March 17 to respond to the draft document and until late April to reply to the formal terms of reference.

Alternatives for the proposed highway were criticized by the vice-chair of COPE in a press release.

"The four possible routes left on the table for consideration are all indirect. They add between 21 and 56 kilometres to the Toronto-to-Fort Erie trip and will probably be tolled as well," said Susan McMaster. "COPE does not see sufficient demand for the MPH materializing to justify its $1.2 billion cost and the environmental damage it will cause if built."

The press release stated Smart Growth principles are contravened because, if built, the mid peninsula highway would not use existing infrastructure and it would not minimize environmental damage, as it could cut the escarpment and impact on hundreds of wetlands, forests, streams and wildlife habitat.

Ministry representatives have argued that expanded transit, railways and roadways are all required to meet projected Golden Horseshoe growth of 2.5 million people in 20 years. They've also said management of transportation systems is needed to meet trade and transportation growth, plus increased congestion expected for the area.

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