Development will follow the highway

May 20, 2003 - Anne Jones - The Hamilton Spectator

The province plans to pave some of the Niagara Escarpment, recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve and protected by provincial laws. Why?

Traffic between Niagara and Hamilton, and through to the Greater Toronto Area, has escalated substantially. A Niagara transportation needs study contained 44 recommendations to improve the Golden Horseshoe corridor.

One of the options to preserve Niagara fruit lands from further highway intrusion is a mid-peninsula highway -- a major highway through Niagara across the escarpment, through Stoney Creek, Glanbrook, Ancaster and Flamborough and on through Burlington. This is the route under study by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO).

Begun in April 2000, the MTO planning has taken into consideration transportation, the economy and the environment, in that order.

It's not surprising that transportation/engineering decisions were considered the most important factors. At the moment there is no clearly defined route on any map, but rather a huge swath of land identified as the "study area."

Four alternate routes within this swath are being considered. One involves considerable destruction to Cootes Paradise with a widening of Highway 403; another will mean extensive expansion of Highway 6.

Mary Lou Tanner, Hamilton's manager of environmental planning, told me that Hamilton and Burlington united to set up a "peer review" committee to evaluate MTO's plans for the highway.

Four consultants with different areas of expertise were hired at a cost of $100,000 to assist staff with the overwhelming amount of information being generated by the study.

She was critical of the severe timelines imposed by the MTO for council's comments and also of MTO's public-consultation strategy, consisting mainly of public information meetings.

It's completely unsatisfactory in light of the enormous amount of complicated information being presented.

Tanner's report, adopted by city council, recommends support for the highway "to address traffic congestion, economic growth and the long-term land-use framework of the city."

However, it identifies serious environmental issues which must be addressed as well as the need for a public consultation strategy. If these issues are not dealt with satisfactorily, staff is authorized to request mediation.

One of Tanner's key comments to me was this. "There is no doubt that the mid-pen highway will change the face of the rural areas it touches. Where the highway goes, development goes," she said.

For Hamilton, that means Flamborough and Glanbrook. Councillors David Braden and Margaret McCarthy have registered their dissent.

"Approving this sets the die," said McCarthy.

"We are approving a road we don't know enough about financially, environmentally or geographically. The decision to support a project of this magnitude which will change the face of my community forever, when we don't even know where it will go, is logistically inconsistent."

Braden is concerned "it's a process that has already come up with the answer and now they are trying to justify the answer by pretending it's an open process. They're shoving it down our throats undemocratically. This will likely be a toll road, which truckers are known to avoid, and probably privately owned, like the 407."

He underlined the damage it could cause to the Copetown area, some of the most productive farmland in the country and echoed Tanner's assertion that roads bring development.

The Niagara Escarpment Commission is calling for a full environmental assessment of the highway which would include an assessment of the justification for the highway, substantially more than the lesser, technically termed "scoped" assessment MTO is planning. Burlington is considering legal action if approval is granted for this "deficient, scoped" assessment.

Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac sent a letter on April 17 to Hamilton Mayor Bob Wade enclosing Burlington's 95-page highway report, asking that it be included in Hamilton's next council agenda.

"(Burlington) staff or members of council would be prepared to attend the meeting and discuss the report," said MacIsaac.

Hamilton's answer? There wasn't enough time because MTO had set an April 30 deadline for submissions.

How politically naive!

Had two communities like Hamilton and Burlington asked for more time, no minister, facing an election, would have hesitated to grant it.

And how politically stupid!

Hamilton is burdened with the cost of downloaded social services. Halton is pooled with the rest of the GTO helping Toronto's downloaded costs. Last year Halton indicated an interest in helping Hamilton instead.

This slap in the face for Burlington doesn't bode well for Burlington's support of that idea.

I have two thoughts on this issue.

First, it is imperative that a decision on the preferred route be made without undue delay, because, as Hamilton Councillor David Mitchell says, "Residents and the farming community would like to know where the proposed road will be as soon as possible. Some are holding back on expansion until they know that. Some may wish to relocate. When things are in limbo it affects them adversely."

Second, I am aware that the MTO feels it should not be subject to a full assessment hearing because of its extensive study of the need for the highway.

With all due respect to our council members who agreed with MTO, I beg to differ.

This highway will cross many municipal boundaries all the way from Fort Erie almost to Toronto, requires massive amounts of land expropriation and will affect the lives of thousands of Ontarians along the route.

And it paves over some of our escarpment.

It should be subject to a full assessment hearing before an independent board in accordance with the laws of the land.

Anne Jones is a former Hamilton alderman and controller and was the first Hamilton-Wentworth regional chair. She is a freelance writer, and her views are her own.

Contact COPE:

©copyright 2002 - 2012 COPE

The COPE website was updated October 30, 2012
Website design and hosting by Virtual Image Hamilton: