Highway routes: 3 Mother Nature: 0
Each of three highway options has impact on environment: COPE

Dennis Smith - Nov 27, 2002 - Burlington Post

Studying more routes may not mean fewer critics of the proposed mid-peninsula highway from Niagara.

Two alternatives besides the Hwy. 407 connection will be considered during the upcoming environmental assessment, the province announced last week.

"In a small sense, it's a step in the right direction," said David Eckersley of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Expressway. "But none of the three routes gets them off the hook environmentally."

Possible connections for the mid-peninsula highway include Hwy. 407 near Walker's Line, Hwy. 401 west of Milton and the Niagara Escarpment, and Hwy. 403 near Hamilton.

A public highway information session will be held tomorrow (Thursday) at the Burlington Holiday Inn from 3-9 p.m., with presentations at 6:30 p.m.

Eckersley questioned the province's commitment to the non-Hwy. 407 connections, noting they were previously studied and rejected.

"It may have just been done because of public pressure and, at the end of the day, they'll go back to where they started," he said.

Expanding Hwy. 403 to 12 lanes to link up with the new highway would require widening the escarpment cut near Hamilton Mountain and bridges between Cootes Paradise and Burlington Bay, said Eckersley.

The other alternative involves looping the new highway around Hamilton and sending it up through Peter's Corner's (Hwys. 5 and 8) in Flamborough to Hwy. 401, west of the escarpment.

"It avoids having another cut in the escarpment, but there are implications for traffic on Hwy. 401," said Eckersley. "And there are tons of significant wetlands it would go through."

Motorists bound for the Greater Toronto Area won't take this road, he believes. "The route to Hwy. 401 will be so far out of the way, we don't know if many will use it.".

He believes other transportation alternatives should be considered instead of a new road.

"They're steaming ahead despite the fact they haven't conclusively proven we need the highway in the first place," said Eckersley.

But Burlington's MPP says municipalities acknowledge the need for a new highway to remove traffic from the QEW.

"There's a need to move goods and services," said Cam Jackson. "Regional chairs and mayors are supporting the mid-peninsula highway."

He stressed the highway's environmental planning process is just starting. "It will be 8-10 years before there's a shovel in the ground."

Jackson said the Hwy. 401 route alternative will have a wider study area because it doesn't cut through the escarpment.

The environmental assessment will consider sensitive areas, he said. "There are very high standards."

Jackson said the Hwy. 401 connection could serve commercial nodes planned in Kitchener and nearby communities, plus long-range perimeter highway plans. "It's an opportunity to move heavy commercial traffic from the QEW."

As for the Hwy. 403 alternative, Jackson said the lane expansion may be a small one. "We have to look at this issue anyway," he said. "The status quo on Hwy. 403 is not viable over the longterm."

Jackson said the provincial government added the highway route options based on public meetings. He said there was also unanimity from MPPs to consider alternative sites.

He noted the provincial government has committed $10 billion to rapid transit and is investing significantly in GO Transit and highway improvements.

Promise of transit alternative

But a Burlington councillor said it was promised that a transit alternative would be provided.

"A transit-friendly alternative should've been presented," said John Taylor. "Both the mayor (Rob MacIsaac) and myself have been saying that."

He said the Hwy. 403 linkup option "will have an unacceptable impact on the Niagara Escarpment, Cootes Paradise and cemeteries in the area."

The executive director of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment is glad there's more than one highway route, but feels non-highway options must be examined.

"And the key issue is the Hwy. 407 connection is by no means off the table," said Jason Thorne. "People in Burlington need to be wary of looking at this too positively."

"The process so far has been about one thing and one thing only, building a new superhighway," noted Raymond Dartsch of Transportation 2000. "The government needs to add and integrate to the process, like expanding GO Train and VIA Rail services and ferry service."

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