Despite a decision by Ontario's Liberal government to put
the Niagara to GTA transportation corridor through a full
environmental assessment (EA), a local environmental group
remains committed to maintaining its vigilance through the
COPE - Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment - remains
as determined to thwart the construction of any major highway
across the escarpment as it did when formed two years ago.
"We are cautiously optimistic at this point with what
the MTO (Ontario's Ministry of Transportation) has come up
with" in preparing a draft EA Terms of Reference for
the proposal, north Burlington and COPE co-chair Dave Bailey
said last week. But the group wants to make sure there are
no pre-conceived ideas that a major highway from Fort Erie,
through Flamborough and north Burlington, to the GTA, is the
only solution to address growing traffic pressures in and
around Niagara Region.
Instead of a new highway, COPE is promoting the expansion
of existing highways, as well as rail and marine systems.
"The idea of building a new highway is not the ultimate
answer because a highway very quickly becomes a parking lot,"
Bailey observed, meaning that more highways add to traffic
gridlock by promoting road travel instead of transit or other
modes of transportation.
Plans for the 130-kilometre, $1.5-billion superhighway,
previously called the MPH (Mid-Peninsula Highway) and now
referred to in government documents as the Niagara-GTA Corridor,
have been dormant in recent months after a failed attempt
by the previous Conservative government to scope the EA -
an approach that would effectively shorten the planning process
and limit public input. The current provincial government
recently published a notice asking for public comment on the
Niagara to GTA EA Terms of Reference. It says the new assessment
"will define transportation problems and opportunities
within the Niagara to GTA area; assess current and future
transportation needs; and examine a full range of reasonable
Comments on the draft Terms of Reference will be collected
until April 20, after which public consultations will be held
to review "the process and criteria for generating and
assessing alternative solutions" to future traffic capacity
While this seems to dovetail nicely with COPE's plan to
look at all transportation options, Bailey said there's need
for a cautious approach. He points to the government's recently-released
greenbelt protection plan which discusses accommodating new
or expanded infrastructure in the greenbelt.
The province's proposed legislation doesn't preclude the
building of transportation corridors on the protected lands
from Niagara Falls to Peterborough, COPE's other chair, Sue
McMaster of the Troy area, stated in an interview with the
Review last fall. "That looks like a little wiggle room
to allow for the MPH," she said at the time.
Her assessment is shared by other members of COPE, which
continues to hold a membership of about 1,000. About one-fifth
of its members hail from Flamborough, Bailey estimated.
Bailey said COPE plans to remain watchful of the EA process
and "is in the process of putting its thoughts together"
for a submission to the MTO by the April 20 deadline.