controversy over the proposed mid peninsula highway and the terms of
reference for its environmental assessment is growing.
experienced scientists and legal experts, active stakeholders and
reasonable community groups with environmental protection as their mission,
who advise caution and call for a complete examination of impacts and
an environmental assessment of any transportation project, let alone
one as important at the proposed $1.2 billion, 130-kilometre route from
either Niagara Falls or Fort Erie to Burlington, serves as an all-important
table of contents of the business plan for transportation choice, environmental
and economic development of Niagara region for the next 30 years.
good businessperson, I think the Ministry of Transport's plan needs
to address the competition, i.e. the 'alternatives' to the 'only a highway
were starting a new tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, for example,
you would have to demonstrate that you had a superior understanding
of your competitors, the trend in the tourism market, and the unique
service you offered, before you would even try to make an appointment
to see your banker.
peninsula highway case is no different. Using this standard -- a thorough
examination of the transportation alternatives the business case for
the highway is incomplete.
For example, I have these four key questions:
proposed highway routes draw visitors away from Ontario's key tourist
attraction, Niagara Falls, or route them directly here from our identified
key markets such as Toronto and Hamilton?
Will the financial commitment dedicated to the mid pen project defer
the Queen Elizabeth Way expansion to eight lanes, which it was designed
Will that financial commitment defer critical investment in other transportation
options, such as regional public transit improvement?
Will a 'scoped' assessment answer all of our longer-term environmental
protection goals? Or will it, as critics say, permanently scar environmental
treasures and important tourist attractions like the Niagara Escarpment?
Niagara Falls residents care about the protection of our escarpment.
A recent poll conducted by Oracle Poll Research for Citizens Opposed
to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) shows that over 86 per cent agree with
me in calling for a full and comprehensive environmental assessment
of the highway's impact on the natural environment.
91 per cent of us think the Niagara Escarpment should be protected in
its entirety. Many of our residents are also concerned about the proposed
highway's impact on local air quality and urban sprawl.
I am absolutely sympathetic with any concerns about time delays brought
about by unnecessarily complicated 'process.' But unlike some, I see
good environmental and economic impact studies as neither frivolous
nor time consuming.
prudent business investments. Interestingly enough, when the Federal
Department of Highways in the U.S. undertook a study to determine what
really held up highway approvals, it found that streamlining, or narrowing
the scope of environmental assessment caused more, not less, time delay.
I suggest we focus our political and community efforts in our investigation
about both the environmental impact of the proposed highway and its
perceived economic benefits on these key actions:
We should encourage the Ministry of Transport to broaden, not narrow,
the scope of the terms of reference for the environmental assessment
of the mid- peninsula highway. It's better that we hear about all of
its environmental and human health impacts before we make the decision
to invest over a billion dollars in a bad decision that will be with
us for at least 30 years;
We should call for a transparent and interactive citizen and stakeholder
engage-ment process. As citizens of Niagara Falls know, when residents,
community groups and local business interests all get together, we can
find common ground terms that satisfy both our economic and environmental
interests as opposed to those that merely suggest unreasonable 'trade
MTO to make a logical and clear business case -- one that looks beyond
its current Needs Assessment Study and incorporates a savvy customer
transportation business case offers choice -- to business, families
and visitors, and includes increased goods and passenger movement by
rail. As a local government, we have already committed to increasing
our transportation budget.
I am confident
that a full environment and economic assessment of the Mid-Peninsula
Highway will lead us towards proper and reasonable decision-making,
ensuring that we can make the correct, lasting decision, both for the
environment and our local communities.
Wayne Thomson is mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario.