Guelph could see two new superhighways,
official says

The Toronto Star, March 7, 03

GUELPH Massive expansion of Ontario's 400-series highways will dramatically change the Guelph landscape, says an official with an agency that monitors development impacts on the Niagara Escarpment.

"Guelph is going to be a hotbed for sprawl in all directions," said Jason Thorne, executive director of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment, following the recent release of the draft report from the Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel.

Thorne said a conceptual map in the report showing Guelph at the crossroads of two new expressways is only part of the picture. The Ontario ministry of transportation is also embarking on an environmental assessment for a "mid-peninsula highway" that could reroute all of the trucks heading from the U.S. border to the Greater Toronto Area onto Highway 401 near Guelph.

"It's going to be a nightmare for commuters, and a massive air pollution problem, of course," said Thorne.

Added to the "smart growth'' and mid-peninsula proposals is a ministry plan to build a new expressway parallel to Highway 7 between Highway 400 and the Hanlon Expressway.

"Guelph is definitely at the intersection of two proposed major new expressways," said Thorne, who believes most people in Guelph have no idea how much highway development is being contemplated in their backyard.

Although most of the proposals are still at the conceptual stage, Guelph environmental planner Shannon Smith is concerned.

"It's the 'if it is built they will come' mentality," she said.

"It does not address congestion," she said, and it does not promote the principles in the province's smart-growth initiative.

"Building more lanes has been proven to not address gridlock. It just exacerbates it."

Smith said instead of spending so much to subsidize roads, the province should be investing in movement of goods and people by rail.

The mid-peninsula proposal, designed to get trucks off the Queen Elizabeth Way and away from tourism traffic, is the closest to becoming a reality. There appears to be support for the section from Niagara and around the south end of Hamilton. But there was intense opposition to linking a mid-peninsula highway to the 407 at Burlington. The ministry responded by adding three more options, including one that would link up to the 401 east of Highway 6. Thorne sees this as the compromise solution.

"That means major traffic headaches for anyone trying to get from Guelph, Kitchener or Cambridge to the GTA," he said.

Thorne's coalition of 30 organizations has been a watchdog for 25 years for the 750-kilometre-long escarpment, which was designated by the United Nations in 1990 as a world biosphere reserve. The coalition is warning that no matter which highway option is chosen, there will irrevocable ecological damage.

"The escarpment will be squeezed between sprawl on both sides."

Torstar News Service

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