End highway expansion to stop sprawl, group says
CANADIAN PRESS Dec. 1, 2003 The Toronto Star
The Liberal government should immediately stop major highway expansion
in southern Ontario to avoid the staggering environmental and economic
costs of urban sprawl, a new coalition said today.
The Ontario Smart Growth Network also called on the government to freeze
existing urban boundaries.
"The insidious creep of sprawl is affecting our air and water quality
and it's destroying woodlands, wetlands, wildlife habit and farmlands,"
said Gregor Beck of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, which is
among 39 network members.
"We've got to address and curb sprawl."
Urban sprawl is already chewing up about 3,000 hectares a year of prime
farm land, says a Pembina Institute report released by the group.
The report cites research that suggests the economic cost of traffic
congestion in the Toronto area will climb to as much $4 billion a year
in the next 30 years, and exhaust-related greenhouse gas emissions will
jump 42 per cent.
Mark Winfield, author of the report, said the Liberal government was
elected in part because of its "extensive commitments" to planning and
He noted the previous Conservative government earmarked about $1 billion
a year to highways that could be better spent elsewhere.
"If the government wants to send a very clear signal about changing
the direction of public policy, then the reallocation of those dollars
from highway building to transit would be a very obvious way in which
it could carry through with that," said Winfield.
During the recent election campaign, McGuinty was adamant the Ontario
Municipal Board would be given a new mandate to curb uncontrolled growth.
"Intensification is good, sprawl is bad," McGuinty said.
He also promised changes to an existing tax break for new homebuyers
so that all buyers of new homes would be eligible - but only for purchases
in "priority growth areas."
So far, the only action the Liberal government has taken has been to
break a promise to stop construction of homes on the ecologically sensitive
Oak Ridges moraine after discovering it would cost too much to do so.
The provincial Transportation Ministry has a "highway mindset" that
must change, said Debbe Crandall, who's with Save the Oak Ridges Moraine,
an environmental group that's also a member of the new coalition.
"As long as highway construction continues to be subsidized, and as
long as there is no rationalization of planning and transportation,
there will be no stopping sprawl," she said.
The province's transportation minister, Harinder Takhar, said he had
no intention of implementing a moratorium on highway expansion.