New highway should be last resort on congestion

Sep. 12, 01:44 EDT

Transportation: Transit, road improvements needed
It's time to apply the brakes and return to the drawing board in studying the proposed mid-peninsula highway as it affects Hamilton and Burlington. That message resonated emphatically at the latest public meeting on the controversial project this week. Consultants retained by Burlington and Hamilton found the transportation ministry's work to date was full of as many holes as a Swiss cheese. That's not acceptable for a highway which would have enormous implications for the people of this area, if it proceeds.

There is growing, and justified, concern in this area about the ministry's proposal to extend the mid-peninsula highway well beyond Niagara, route it around Hamilton and then east across Burlington to Highway 407. It isn't only the route itself which has upset many people. It's the way in which the ministry has appeared to fast-track a preferred route by quickly ruling out alternatives, placing too little value on expanded public transit, and spending much less time evaluating the impact in the entire Hamilton/Burlington area as opposed to Niagara.

A long list of flaws was identified by the consultants. They found, among other things, that the ministry had assumed no increase in the relatively small share of transportation demand now served by public transit over the next 30 years. That sort of thinking might have been expected from "the ministry of trucks and cars" (the nickname for the ministry when it was known as the Ministry of Transportation and Communications), but it shows a lack of creativity. It gives short shrift to the growing recognition that governments at all levels must invest more effort in upgrading GO Transit and improving the existing road network -- including a serious commitment to high-occupancy vehicle lanes for cars with two, three or more passengers -- before they settle on a $1.6-billion superhighway.

The connection to the 407 tollway, as opposed to other routes involving Highway 401, came in for more criticism. Halton planners reported that a link to the 401 could accommodate the projected travel demand as well as 407. A potential 401 connection west of Campbellville, or farther west using a route such as Highway 8, would eliminate the likelihood of tolls and protect the Niagara Escarpment.

Burlington Councillor John Taylor, the first municipal politician in the area to alert the public to the ministry's plans, deserves credit for persuading the ministry to revisit the alternatives. Burlington MPP Cam Jackson, until now as quiet as the eye of a hurricane, told the meeting that he thinks the ministry's plan is too narrow in focus and that other routes must be examined in the environmental assessment process.

As Taylor said, a superhighway should be the last resort to solving commuter congestion in the Burlington/Hamilton area. The groundswell of public concern is powerful evidence that it would be smart of the government to accelerate improvements to existing roads and public transit before building another new highway through the heart of this area.

-- Gord McNulty

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