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
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
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 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
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.