New Smart Growth money makes all the right moves; COPE

Irene Gentle - The Flamborough Post June 6, 2003

Better public transit and less-congested highways. That's the aim of a new $645 million injection into transportation infrastructure in Hamilton and Niagara, announced earlier this week.

The cash comes under the province's Smart Growth category.

Expected programs include the expansion of GO Transit services including a third track from Burlington to Hamilton, as well as a new commuter bus-rail service for Golden Horseshoe municipalities. A shuttle bus to Hamilton airport will be studied to the tune of $575,000, while Hamilton will receive almost $3.5 million to rejuvenate its current bus fleet.

Roads won't be ignored. On the books for this area is the construction of a section of road on Hwy. 6.

The cash goes hand in hand with the government's proposed Smart Transportation Bill, which has been garnering much controversy among critics.

The bill aims to allow the province to identify transportation corridors - either for roads or public transit - early in order to plan for transportation growth before congestion hits a crisis stage.

But critics feel the bill will do away with much-needed environmental assessments, prevent conflicts from going before the Ontario Municipal Board and do away with the rights of property owners, whose land could be expropriated.

Minister of Transportation spokesperson Bill Nichols denied all these charges.

A press conference opposing Bill 25 staged by a variety of environmental groups, including Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) and the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) earlier this week was attended by Ancaster-Dundas- Flamborough-Aldershot MPP Ted McMeekin.

He feels the growing criticism had an effect on Transportation Minister Frank Klees. "The Minister said in the House that he has asked his staff to review the concerns that have been expressed," he said.

And COPE Vice-chair Dave Eckersley was thrilled with the new Smart Growth funding announcements, saying it is exactly what groups like his have been calling for.

"They're doing a lot of what the different groups have been asking for - a better integrated transit system," he said.

Now he wants the province to apply the same rigour to the proposed mid-peninsula hwy., aimed at easing traffic congestion between Niagara and Toronto. With improved alternatives in place, the road may not be needed at all, said Eckersley.

And the province can make it go away simply by ordering a full environmental assessment, entailing a needs study. That could spell the end of the road. "That may be a good no-lose solution," he said.

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