Mid Pen opponents getting ready for next round
Dianne Cornish , Flamborough Review
It has been several months since the proposed Mid-Peninsula Highway
from Fort Erie to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been in the public
limelight. But that doesn't mean interest in the controversial project
has waned. In fact, it looks very much like two major players will square
off in the next round of public consultations over the proposed 130-kilometre,
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is looking at taking a more active
role in championing the project, while a highly vocal citizens' group
called COPE (Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment) is not about
to let its guard down. COPE, with a membership of close to 1,000, has
a pledge from Ontario's Liberal government that the Mid-Peninsula Trade
Corridor (MPTC) will undergo a full Environmental Assessment (EA). The
Hamilton Chamber, on the other hand, wants input into how the EA is
scoped and will work to ensure that groundwork already covered in the
process, such as a needs assessment study, is not repeated causing unnecessary
delay in constructing what the Chamber's Chief Executive Officer John
Dolbec describes as "an essential project" to Hamilton's economic
If built, the four-lane rural roadway with a three-metre median and
100-metre wide right of way, could cut a swath through agriculture-rich
western Flamborough before proceeding north of Waterdown and crossing
the Niagara Escarpment to connect with Highway 407 near Walker's Line
Formed about two years ago, COPE has undertaken an aggressive campaign
to stop the highway and look at alternatives to deal with traffic gridlock
in the area. The group advocates full exploration of other options besides
highway-building, including public transit and rail improvements.
Last Thursday, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting at
the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at the Hamilton Airport "to
test the will of people in the broader business community to form an
advocacy group in support of the Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor,"
About 70 people attended the event, including former Hamilton regional
chair Terry Cooke, now a senior executive with a local transport carrier
business, and former regional Niagara chair, Debbie Zimmerman, now executive
director of the Ontario Grape Growers Association.
Former Stoney Creek MPP Brad Clark, who held the post of Minister of
Transportation with Ontario's former Conservative government, was also
Dolbec said the "basic intent" of forming the advocacy group,
which is expected to take shape early next year, is "to make sure
there is a balance of information before the public" when the project
resurfaces for public discussion.
Right now, there are 800 pages on the Internet opposing the Mid-Pen
and very little pointing out the need for the highway, Dolbec said.
"There's some imbalance, in terms of public profile," he charged.
Saying "the project is long overdue," Dolbec stressed that
"the MPTC is necessary to act as the northern terminus for Continental
One," a major north-south highway being built in the United States
to open up trade routes for goods from Mexico and the U.S. into Canada.
"International trade is absolutely vital to our economy,"
Sue McMaster, a Flamborough resident and co-chair of COPE, said Tuesday
she wasn't surprised by the Chamber move. "We had heard rumblings"
of an advocacy group being formed, she said.
But she disagrees there has been an imbalance of information relayed
to the public about the project.
"It's nice to have balance, but we think it's the citizens' turn
(to speak out) because developers and business have had free rein with
the Niagara Escarpment," she said. Zimmerman and Clark have been
strong advocates of Mid-Pen in the past, she noted, charging that the
project only got as far as it did because of their "position of
McMaster further charged that "Niagara Region and Zimmerman showed
a total lack of regard for any alternatives. It has been highway and
highway only mentality" for them, she insisted.
"We think business and societal needs can be met without taking
this single-minded approach," she stated.
Asked about a public opinion survey undertaken in June by Hendershot
Research Consultants for the Hamilton Chamber which found that almost
80 per cent of area residents support construction of the Mid-Pen, McMaster
downplayed the finding.
"The way you phrase a question can determine results," she
said. "It doesn't surprise me from the way the question was phrased,
they got the result that they did."
Four hundred residents in both the former City of Hamilton and its
amalgamated suburbs were asked: "Do you strongly support, somewhat
support or not support the construction of the Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor,
which includes the new highway?"
A preamble to the question stated, "The province is considering
plans to build a Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor, which would include a
new highway running south of Hamilton to expedite traffic flow from
the Fort Erie border to the Greater Toronto Area. It will also reduce
congestion on the QEW and protect the tender fruitlands in Niagara."
"It's huge conjecture" to state the new highway will reduce
congestion on the QEW, particularly since the Mid-Pen is expected to
be a toll road which will actually discourage motorists and truckers
from using it, McMaster argued. Moreover, gridlock will likely be increased,
she said, because "you induce usage of the highway by building
Dolbec said the Hamilton consultants who conducted the survey assured
the Chamber that its results are "a reasonable reflection of public
opinion, plus or minus five per cent, 19 times out of 20."
He said the Chamber sees the highway as essential to Hamilton's economic
growth and is hopeful that it will swing near the Hamilton Airport,
which "is the driver for Hamilton's economic development."
McMaster said members of COPE will be vigilant as the Mid-Pen process
resumes. The province's proposed greenbelt protection legislation is
welcome, she said, but doesn't preclude the building of transportation
corridors on the protected lands from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.
A section of the plan talks about "accommodating new or expanded
infrastructure in the greenbelt," she said. "That looks like
a little bit of wiggle room to allow for the Mid-Peninsula Highway,"
Mid-peninsula highway faces big hurdles, says McMeekin
The case for a Mid-Peninsula Transportation Corridor (MPTC) from Fort
Erie through Hamilton to Toronto is becoming a 'tougher sell,' Liberal
MPP Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot) suggested this
week. Several new factors have cropped up in recent weeks that "raise
a lot of serious questions about the wisdom of that highway," he
Ontario's proposed greenbelt protection plan will mean it'll become
more difficult to support a major roadway through the area west and
north of Hamilton which has been designated as "protected countryside"
in the plan.
Then there's the federal government's recent decision to inject $2.5
billion into the construction of two major runways at the new Pickering
Add to that the Niagara Region's request for a study to have GO Transit
service from St. Catharines to Niagara Falls and together these factors
suggest "it's going to become more difficult to support a roadway
through that area," McMeekin said.
The Pickering airport announcement is "a significant downer"
for those, such as the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, who are pushing
for the four-lane highway to run near the Hamilton Airport as a way
of spurring economic growth in the area, McMeekin noted.
Expansion opportunities for the Hamilton Airport are put into question
by the development of another airport on the east side of Toronto.
Commenting on the Hamilton Chamber's recent move to form an advocacy
group to support the highway project, the local MPP said he's not surprised
by the action, especially considering the new challenges faced by the
Ontario's Liberal government is committed to a full EA (Environmental
Assessment) on the project, McMeekin said, adding that the assessment
"will review right from the 'get-go' the need for the highway"
and will also demonstrate "a willingness to look at all alternatives
He accused Ontario's previous Conservative government of following
"a faulty process" which didn't provide sufficient opportunity
for public input at the needs assessment stage.
"This government is going to take the time to do it right,"
Noting that alleviating gridlock is one of the major reasons put forward
by those supporting the need for the highway, McMeekin said the idea
of expanded GO service in the area should help relieve some of the traffic
He said 26 per cent of the Hamilton to Toronto traffic now travels
by GO train and if the same can be achieved between St. Catharines and
Niagara Falls, it will significantly relieve some of the traffic pressures
in the area.
While the greenbelt legislation doesn't preclude the construction of
transportation corridors through protected areas, "Anytime you're
running any infrastructure through protected greenbelt space, it will
become an even more onerous burden to prove the need for it," McMeekin
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce publicly announced its support for
the highway several months ago. The Flamborough Chamber of Commerce
"has not yet taken a formal position" on the issue, its executive
director, Arend Kersten said this week.
However, Hamilton mayor Larry Di Ianni has asked the local Chamber
to come out in support of the project, he added.