Transit summit paves way for tackling highway woes

Hamilton Spectator - February 7, 2004 -Peter Van Harten

It was billed as a GTA Transit Summit but no one bragged that they took a bus to get there.

Just the opposite: their cars streamed into the parking garage at the Mississauga Civic Centre off Highway 403, near Highway 10.

For Oakville Mayor Ann Mulvale, it's usually a 15-minute trip. But she stuck it out on the 403 which was gridlocked because of freezing rain and it took her 50 minutes. She arrived late.

Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni made good time by getting off the 403 but then got lost and wasn't sure how he got there.

And Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac -- who organized yesterday's day-long summit of mayors and federal and provincial politicians in the west end of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) -- admitted he spent Thursday night in a nearby hotel.

"Being the lead-off speaker, I was not going to be stressed about being here on time," he said.

MacIsaac, who has already challenged the province on some of its plans for a new mid-peninsula highway, brought together yesterday's summit of cabinet ministers, mayors, regional chairs, GO Transit officials and blue-ribbon transportation bureaucrats -- 50 people in all -- to press the case for increased senior government commitment and funding for public transit.

Di Ianni and Terry Cooke, former Hamilton-Wentworth regional chair and head of Fluke Transport, moderated panel sessions at which various politicians pledged support for improved transit measures or were called upon to provide sustainable funding for integrated fare systems, and more buses, commuter trains and rapid and designated highway bus routes.

Cooke told the politicians that unless they got some of the commuters off the clogged highways, companies like Fluke that move freight wouldn't be able to make a profit and the economy, jobs and the country would suffer.

The date for yesterday's meeting was switched several times. Mulvale said that was done strategically so that the mayors could buttonhole top politicians in the new provincial and federal governments and press them to deliver in their upcoming budgets on the pious promises made in the recent throne speech.

Provincial cabinet ministers David Caplan for Public Infrastructure and Harinder Takhar for Transportation said they favoured new funding schemes such as a share of gasoline taxes. But they were also guarded. Fiscal constraints and the realization solutions were long-term had to be considered, they warned.

Federal Transportation Minister and Stoney Creek MP Tony Valeri was more forthcoming.

"No longer will municipalities have to come cap in hand," said Valeri, who added the government GST rebate would bring $7 million to Hamilton. It was a throne speech downpayment on Prime Minister Paul Martin's commitment to cities and infrastructure improvements.

"As a Hamilton resident, frankly, I know all too well what it means to be stuck in hours of traffic going in and out of Toronto," he said.

Hamilton's port could be used for short-haul shipping that takes truck freight loads off highways, he said.

Valeri told The Spectator the federal government supported Ontario's plans for a new transit authority for the GTA and he would push for Hamilton to be included in it.

"I want to ensure any authority co-ordinating transit needs reflects the needs of Hamilton," he said .

MacIsaac has included Hamilton in his mayors' caucus on transit but Hamilton often finds itself on the fringes of planning for the GTA.

Hamilton is pushing for increased GO Train service but Di Ianni has yet to hear whether his application to sit on the GO board of directors --replacing former mayor Bob Wade -- will be approved by the province.

"There has to be recognition that we are part of the structure, the decision-making and that we are players," Di Ianni told The Spectator.

Caplan told the meeting the province is still looking at various transit authority models in other cities and said later the boundaries for the new authority have not yet been decided.

"I'm strongly attracted to Hamilton getting a part," Caplan said later.

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