Ontario government's Smart Growth panel recently released its final
report. It lays out their long-term visions for an Ontario that
can grow economically while still maintaining a healthy respect
for green space, the environment, and quality of life for all.
Growth has the potential -- and it's important to note that it is
only potential at this point -- to completely change for the better
the ways in which we deal with development and growth. Rather than
treating growth as the overriding concern while treating the natural
world and our few remaining green spaces as impediments and obstacles
to be filled in, drained or paved over, Smart Growth lays out a
vision in which economic development and the natural world can co-exist.
this part of Ontario, the biggest ssue pitting the forces for unchecked
economic development against those who believe that growth can co-exist
with nature is the potential construction of the mid-peninsula highway,
also known as the mid-pen. Those who are pro-highway continually
point to the economic benefits that will magically arise if the
highway is built. The rest of us believe that transportation solutions
can be smarter, cleaner and cheaper than the 1950's-style mid-pen,
while still producing economic growth and jobs.
Smart Growth vision includes four major recommendations that pertain
to transportation: that investment in transit should occur before
investment in highways, that balanced growth should be encouraged
rather than urban sprawl, that existing infrastructure should be
used where possible, and that green space should be preserved, especially
unique green spaces of high value such as the Niagara Escarpment
and the Oak Ridges Moraine.
of the strangest and saddest things about the government's planned
mid-peninsula highway is that it absolutely contradicts all four
of these principles -- and the same Eves' government is responsible
for both the mid-pen and Smart Growth.
first Smart Growth recommendation for transportation is that investment
in transit and rail should occur before investment in sprawl- inducing
highways that are comparatively more damaging to the environment
and to air and water quality.
transit options are invested in first is absolutely key, if the
government is to be forced out of its longstanding rut: In the past,
Ontario has had a distressing habit of building new roads and then
using the existence of those very roads to argue that demand has
been satisfied and that transit is no longer viable or needed.
of the mid-pen would obviously fly in the face of the Smart Growth
vision that transit should come first when setting transportation
investment priorities, and would once again eventually allow the
government to claim that transit is no longer needed because they
had just finished constructing a $1.5-billion toll highway.
major element of the Smart Growth vision is that urban sprawl should
be discouraged. Sprawl consumes green space and is expensive for
municipalities to service, putting upward pressure on local taxes.
The construction of new highways leads inevitably to sprawl. In
Hamilton, the highway would run south of the airport, an area that
the city already has difficulty servicing and where service improvements
would be a hard hit to an already-strapped city budget.
construction of a new highway obviously represents construction
of new infrastructure, rather than better or smarter use of existing
structures as recommended by the Smart Growth panel. The highway
represents a huge piece of new infrastructure, one that will require
several hundred thousand truckloads of aggregate probably quarried
elsewhere on the Escarpment to construct.
option of improving the QEW and other Niagara area roads has been
rejected by the government, despite the fact that their own studies
have stated that improvements to the existing road network would
solve the congestion problems their studies predict. Their documents
also state that to improve existing roads rather than constructing
a new highway corridor would save about $500 million for Ontario
was the option of improving existing roads rejected by the MTO?
one of the route options that was rejected early in the planning
process was rejected because (to quote the government's own document):
"Sections of alternative E use existing local roadways through Welland
. . . making tolling of these sections infeasible."
fourth aspect of Smart Growth pertaining to transportation is to
ensure the specific protection of "unique and irreplaceable resources"
and of green space in general. The Niagara Escarpment is specifically
mentioned in the Smart Growth document, Shape the Future, which
states that the Escarpment will be "enhanced and protected in perpetuity."
proposed mid-pen has harmful consequences for this wonderful natural
feature: not only from the development pressures that come with
highways, but also the fact that construction of the mid-pen would
place the Escarpment between two major highways (the QEW being the
sum up, it would be difficult to imagine another project that contradicts
or is deaf to so many Smart Growth principles.
Eckersley lives in Hamilton, He is a member of Citizens Opposed
to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) and can be reached through the COPE
Web site: www.stophighway.com