New review slated for proposed highway

Midpeninsula corridor to get full environmental assessment
Daniel Nolan - The Hamilton Spectator

The future of a new highway between Fort Erie and Burlington is back to Square 1 as the Ontario government is keeping a campaign promise to put the midpeninsula corridor through a full environmental assessment.

Supporters of a full assessment such as Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac and Hamilton East MPP Andrea Horwath applaud the move, but Erie-Lincoln MPP Tim Hudak says it's a waste because the previous Conservative government, along with Hamilton and Niagara, produced a study which said the highway was needed.

The government has published a notice asking for public comment on the "Niagara to GTA Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference." It says the 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 solutions."

Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his spokesperson Danna O'Brien said the assessment was announced to keep a Liberal promise.

"The environmental assessment is going to look at all kinds of options," she said. "The whole point is to arrange the transportation needs for that area. We know there's going to be population growth."

Asked if that means at the end of the assessment the mid-peninsula corridor could be ruled out, O'Brien said, "I'm not going to talk about what's being ruled in or being ruled out. It wouldn't be responsible for me to preclude anything."

Asked if the 2001 Niagara Peninsula Transportation Needs Assessment Study, paid for by Ontario, Hamilton and Niagara, didn't already state the need for the corridor, she replied, "We're proceeding the right way."

The former Tory government announced plans to build a $1.5-billion highway between the Queen Elizabeth Way in Fort Erie and Highway 407 in Burlington, but its plan ran into opposition in Burlington because it threatened part of the Niagara escarpment. Burlington threatened to take the government to court, but dropped its challenge when the Liberals came to office in 2003.

The 2001 study concluded the corridor "will be required" along with upgrades to the QEW to accommodate future travel demand. The narrower assessment under the Tories would have determined the best highway route.

Hudak called the new assessment "one step forward, and four steps backward" because the 2001 study had concluded the highway was needed to relieve congestion and not threaten any more tender fruit land by expanding the QEW.

He also said the government knew it was making a controversial decision because it notified area MPPs and others about the new assessment just before a weekend in what he called a "Friday night dump. They slipped it by."

MacIsaac said he "was cautiously encouraged" about the new assessment because it sounds like what Burlington has been asking for. He said staff are trying to confirm that with provincial officials.

Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni, whose council in 2003 endorsed the midpeninsula corridor, accepted the new assessment as a reality. He wouldn't say if he expected it to reconfirm the road, but said, "At the end of the day, rational people will make the right decision. Let's see where that takes us."

Horwath, a New Democrat, joked, "This is one of those cases where I'm not displeased with the route the government has taken."

 

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