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FULL ASSESSMENT NEEDED FOR PROPOSED HIGHWAY


By Doug Draper

PULSE NIAGARA, MAY 03

A push by the province to cut yet one more
major highway through what’s left of the
environmentally precious Niagara Escarpment
and through the middle of what’s left of some
of the best dairy and crop-farming lands in the
Niagara region has suffered another blow.

Last week the Niagara Escarpment
Commission – the official watchdog body for
the Escarpment the Tory government of Mike
Harris and Ernie Eves went out of its way over
the past eight years to debunk – still had
enough fortitude left in its depleted ranks to call
on the provincial government and its Ministry of
Transportation to carry out a full environmental
assessment, complete with open public
hearings, on the 130-kilometre, $1.2-billion
mega-highway project.

A full environmental
assessment, unlike the more "scoped"
assessment the province wants to conduct,
would be far open to examining all alternatives
to yet one more highway for trucks and cars,
including rail and other forms of mass transit.
"There’s an infinite number of ways of making
money – there is only one Niagara
Escarpment," said Susan McMaster, a
vice-chair of Citizens Opposed to Paving the
Escarpment (COPE), during an address she
gave to the commission the day (April 24) it
made its decision to call for a full assessment.
"True smart growth (meaning urban growth that
is less sprawling and more compact, that is
less driven by car and truck transportation, and
more economically and environmentally
sustainable) means planning for our
communities in a way that maximizes efficient
forms of transportation such as rail and public
transit. The (Niagara) mid-peninsula highway
flies in the face of that," she said, adding that
the commission’s decision to call for a full
environmental assessment is "a big step in the
right direction."


Ironically, the proposal by the provincial
government and its Ministry of Transportation
(MTO) to construct a major highway between
the already existing Hamilton/Toronto mess of
highways and the Fort Erie/Buffalo border was
morphed out of a call by Niagara regional chair
Debbie Zimmerman and her council for a new
"mid-peninsula transportation corridor." This
would replace the congested QEW – a more
than six-decades-old highway system already
cutting through and placing ever-more

development pressure (thanks to
MTO moves to spend hundreds of millions of
our taxdollars expanding the lanes on it too) on
what’s left of Niagara’s tender fruit-growing
lands. It was not such a bad idea in theory.
They wanted to take pressure off what is left of
a precious fruit belt supporting what is rapidly
becoming a world-class grape and wine
industry by pushing the major transportation
corridor in Niagara, between the Greater
Toronto Area to the U.S. border, further south in
the peninsula where the lands are not so plush
for growing world-class grapes.
But the MTO rapidly turned what Zimmerman
was calling a "mid-peninsula transportation
corridor" into a "mid-peninsula highway." For
anyone who cares to glance through all the
clippings from newspapers across Ontario on
this project, even most of the politicians in the
Niagara area have spent the last three years
referring to this "corridor" as a "highway."
And it could very well be a "highway," as CONE
and many of its other critics argue, that
promotes more urban sprawl rather than
discourages it, and that contributes to a smog
problem (caused in part by truck and car
congestion) that is now prematurely killing
about 1,900 Ontarians each year, according to
the Ontario Medical Association.
One of Zimmerman’s assistants insisted a few
weeks back that it was not the regional chair’s
intention to see the province simply come in
and construct another four- or six-lane highway
across the middle of the Niagara Peninsula.
She has been championing a "mid-peninsula
corridor" that is open to a host of options
including rail and other transportation
alternatives. If that is so, then now is the time
for Zimmerman to speak out against the
province’s single-minded drive to lacerate the
Niagara Escarpment and some of the nicest
rural lands in her region with yet one more
highway.
Zimmerman should join COPE, CONE and the
Niagara Escarpment Commission in
demanding that this proposed highway be
subjected to a full and open environmental
assessment.
[BY DOUG DRAPER]

 

 

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