Proposed 12-lane 403 is too wild to consider

Gord McNulty
Nov. 27, The Hamilton Spectator
Transportation: Alternatives required

A major widening of Highway 403 through Hamilton and Ancaster for the proposed mid-peninsula corridor isn't our definition of responsible planning. It's hard to imagine how such a concept can be treated seriously given the formidable environmental and financial obstacles involved.

Just think of what Hamilton's panoramic western gateway would look like after the 403 had been doubled to 12 lanes from six. Another 30 metres would have to be excavated from the face of the Niagara Escarpment. Part of Cootes Paradise would in all likelihood have to be filled in. The bridges on King and Main streets over the 403 would require rebuilding. Chedoke Golf Course and the Desjardins Canal would be negatively impacted. The project would be devastating for Hamilton's image and its hopes of building a reputation as a city that cares about sustainable planning.

The 403 idea is so far-fetched, and problematic, as to be a non-starter. Hamilton city council should not hesitate to say so. As much as councillors see the mid-peninsula project as important to Hamilton's growth, they should draw the line at a concept that would almost certainly ignite tremendous -- and well-founded -- opposition among concerned citizens. Opposition began to mobilize as soon as the idea was unveiled, and the government should listen. There are better ways to use scarce public funds than to waste time and money on a proposal whose feasibility is openly questioned by transportation ministry officials and senior city planners. The government could do taxpayers a favour by shelving its full evaluation of the "environmental, economic and social impact" of the 403 alternative.

The 403 idea is so dubious that it begs the question of why it's being included in what the government is portraying as a broadening of studies into the mid-peninsula corridor. We suspect, as Burlington councillors do, that opposition to the much-debated idea of building the superhighway around the urban periphery of Hamilton and across north Burlington to Highway 407 is at play. It would be politically expedient, to put it mildly, if the ministry were to use the 403 option as a straw man in order to make the 407 route appear more palatable in comparison. If that proves to be the case, the government can brace for more criticism.

The ministry is at least including the alternative of connecting the mid-peninsula corridor to Highway 401, west of the escarpment. If the corridor is inevitable, this option merits evaluation. Nonetheless we share the concern of Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac and other observers who believe the ministry should slow down and study overall transportation in Hamilton/Burlington, with more emphasis on "smart growth" alternatives such as upgrading GO Transit and improving the existing road network.

A more wide-ranging consultation exercise would be much better received than evaluating an ill-conceived, undesirable and highly unlikely 12-lane Highway 403.

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