The Hamilton Spectator - Joan Little
is a TV game show that provides answers with contestants having to guess
the questions. So too the Ministry of Transport of Ontario (MTO) has
an answer, "mid-peninsula highway," but to what question?
scathing 108-page report on the MTO's justification for a highway from
Fort Erie to the Greater Toronto Area was endorsed unanimously by Burlington's
community development committee last Monday. It was prepared in response
to MTO's terms of reference for a "scoped" (minimized) environmental
assessment, known as an EA.
identified numerous concerns with the "deficient TOR (terms of reference)",
claiming the ministry process "violates provincial and federal environmental
assessment laws." It authorized legal action "to restrain MTO from submitting,
and the MOE (Ministry of Environment) from approving, such fundamentally
deficient and scoped TOR", unless the ministry provides requested assurances.
Burlington council does not initiate litigation lightly, and sought
advice from environmental experts.
attacked the transportation ministry's "seriously flawed" documents
and lack of meaningful public consultation. MTO had hosted several meetings,
but the terms of reference shows it disregarded much of that input.
People asked repeatedly for emphasis on improved transit. MTO insists
commuter demand would not invalidate the need for a highway, and movement
of goods must be addressed. Burlington wants reasonable alternatives
evaluated, and noted that excellent transit (e.g. expanded GO service)
would reduce congestion on existing highways. Interestingly, a mid-pen
highway never appeared in any MTO long-term plans for this part of Ontario.
were made to the development committee by groups and individuals. Laurence
Russ, chair of the mid-pen highway stakeholders' advisory group, stated
the overly rushed process was "put together with Scotch tape and chewing
gum ... And it looks like a toll road."
been no decision on tolls, says the MTO. But cost estimates include
tolling structures. David Turnbull, transportation minister in October
1999, floated the idea of a private Niagara Peninsula toll highway to
a coalition of Ontario mayors.
use a new toll highway? Trucks? On the Highway 407 toll route, it costs
a heavy, multiple-unit truck $41.68 to travel a length of 108 kilometres
in peak hours (with no Niagara section). Commuters? A commuter pays
$27.78 return today. And after the fiasco of the government's sale of
the 407, and the heavy-handed collection methods of the 407's operators,
Ontarians have a right to be skeptical.
report criticized MTO's disregard of the Smart Growth Panel's proposals
in February. The panel recommended investment in transit have priority
over roads, and advocated preserving our "green infrastructure" -- Niagara
Escarpment and wetlands. It suggested a trade corridor circumnavigating
the GTA, escarpment, and Oak Ridges Moraine.
MacIsaac, a member of the Smart Growth panel, was incensed at MTO's
lack of respect for the province's own smart growth initiative.
was blunt and forceful. "Some have called the MTO's process a sham,
a fantasy," he said. "But it's been an insult to citizens. It was about
satisfying political agendas in the Niagara peninsula. The process was
fatally and fundamentally flawed. As loudly as we've been screaming,
the minister hasn't listened at all. We have to show we're serious.
Maybe then they'll listen."
Option C, crossing the escarpment between Number One and Number Two
Sideroad in rural Burlington, is considered MTO's preferred option.
Burlington questioned whether options F, G, and H have been added as
"straw man" options, to be eliminated during a flawed, scoped EA process.
planning perspective, Option C is dumb growth. With its Highway 403-Queen
Elizabeth Way-Highway 407 connection, it would feed traffic into the
most congested highways in Ontario. It ignores Burlington's urban boundary,
generating pressure for sprawl. It ignores Ontario's support for the
transfer of rural Parkway Belt West lands in Burlington to the Niagara
Escarpment Plan, which are not now, nor intended for, "urban" designation.
Our Niagara Escarpment is a World Biosphere Reserve, as are the Serengeti
Plain and Galapagos Islands.
pay for North Burlington road expansions to carry traffic off the mid-pen
highway to Cedar Springs Road, Guelph Line, and/or Walker's Line?
rural homeowners who invested life savings to "get away" from urbanization?
quality concerns must be addressed before the fact, not after.
C, says Burlington, should be a non-starter. The Niagara Escarpment
received special provincial legislation and protection because citizens
were outraged about aggregate operations on it.
more would spring up, anxious to ride the "gravel train of riches",
to sell materials for a new highway planned on the escarpment's doorstep?
identified numerous technical flaws in the province's terms of reference
for a mid-pen highway, such as projecting traffic jams by 2031 on highways
that are scheduled for widening long before that -- the QEW and Highways
6 and 403.
province listen, now, or will the lawyers do battle?
Burlington alderman and Halton councillor Joan Little is former chair
of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. She does not identify with any
political party. She is a freelance columnist and her views are her