Explore alternatives to this highway

Joan Little - The Hamilton Spectator - Sep. 23, 01:05 EDT

In Burlington at least, the proposed mid-peninsula highway is the latest I-hate-government hot button. Residents feel under siege by Ontario's "foregone conclusion" type of highway planning.

Instead of "How should growth in transportation demands over the next 30 years be met?", the province's perspective appeared to be a preconceived, "Where should the new highway cross the escarpment in Burlington?"

Some good may come of this exercise, though. Throughout the Golden Horseshoe, people are rallying to the realization the escarpment is too precious for more paving. And they are suspicious of the rush to ram through a proposal for a road "needed" 30 years from now.

The first round of public information sessions was held in July, the second in August, both during the height of vacation season. They were initially proposed as open houses, where the maps (confusing in their lack of detail) could be viewed.

Fortunately, led by Burlington Councillor John Taylor, Burlington and Halton councils succeeded in convincing the province to provide oral presentations and accept questions and comments.

At the first Burlington session, one man asked whether there was a provincial effort to direct future growth away from Hamilton and the GTA to minimize transportation demands. He received a "that's not my department" answer. Questions about smog alert days were answered with "that's the Ministry of the Environment's jurisdiction"; GO transit questions with "someone else's expertise."

The man asking questions proffered that provincial departments and agencies should meet in advance, pool their expertise and, instead of drafting a highway blueprint, co-ordinate an overall transportation approach. He mirrored my belief that government ministries and agencies plan in separate parallel tunnels -- never the twain shall meet.

But Burlington and Hamilton joined forces and commissioned Richmond Hill's iTrans Consulting to do a peer review of the province's process and findings. iTtrans' conclusions were presented recently to 450 people at a Burlington meeting.

The consultant identified many flaws the public had questioned, including the study's narrow focus (build a highway) and the lack of strategies to increase transit use over the 30-year horizon. Toll-road usage and users were not adequately addressed, it said, concluding more information must be provided for the necessary Environmental Assessment.

At that meeting, Burlington MPP and Minister of Tourism Cam Jackson said the province must consider more options and that Transportation Minister Norm Sterling had concurred.

Skeptics had noted the corridor through Burlington was so narrow it was virtually a route and alignment instead of a corridor. (The province justified this as minimizing the impact on the escarpment.)

Last week, a superb comprehensive staff report was on the agenda of the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

It recommended asking the province to put the environmental assessment for the highway proposal on hold, pending a comprehensive provincial transportation and development strategy. Ironically the province that prides itself for initiating "Smart Growth," rushed highway proposals out for public consultation before its much-touted Smart Growth panels' recommendations on how and where Ontario growth should be directed. Their report is expected in early 2003.

To its discredit, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, the agency charged with protecting our escarpment, rejected its staff recommendation, instead taking its advice from Niagara Region's transportation project co-ordinator. (Niagara Region was the big promoter of the mid-peninsula highway.) I wish the provincially appointed commission members were as dedicated to protection of the escarpment as their staff.

The escarpment commission voted to "encourage the Ministry of Transportation to look at all other alternatives to the mid-peninsula corridor and work with the Smart Growth panels and other agencies."

Burlington staff reported last week it believes the province may present draft terms of reference for the environmental assessment at its Burlington public meeting on Thursday at the Holiday Inn. The province's bloopers have focused public attention on the escarpment jewel in Ontario's crown.

Our tourism minister recognizes its tourism value, and travel writers extol the escarpment and its Bruce Trail as an accessible getaway for urbanites.

For 25 years, the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment has fought to protect that resource and a new citizens' group, COPE (Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment) has recently joined the chorus of support.

In 1990, the Niagara Escarpment was designated by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve -- one of only 12 in Canada today -- an area of ecological importance which allows for sustainable use. The province has recognized its uniqueness by establishing a special land use plan for it.

The 8,000-member Bruce Trail Association (BTA) has built a footpath more than 800 kilometres long on it, and raises funds to purchase more escarpment lands.

Recently Burlington purchased 68 hectares on the brow near Kerns Road, aided by a pledge of $200,000 from the BTA. Oct. 6 is being recognized by Burlington as Bruce Trail Day and the Iroquoia Club of the BTA will stage hikes departing from the former quarry below the brow on Kerns Road hourly from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. What a success story of co-operation!

With all there is to celebrate about the escarpment, it seems almost sacrilegious to propose a mega-highway cutting through it, à la the Red Hill Creek Expressway fiasco, when there are other options.

Former Burlington alderman and Halton councillor Joan Little is former chair of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. She does not identify with any political party. She is a freelance columnist 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: