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Environmental groups fear long-term impacts on Province’s transportation plan

July 23, 2021   ·   0 Comments

In early July, the Government of Ontario released its Master Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). Its purpose is to outline the future vision of what transportation planning will look like for the foreseeable future.

“We have a vision is of an interconnected transportation system that provides a safe, seamless and accessible transportation experience for all Ontarians. And most importantly, a system that works better for you and the nearly 15 million people who will call the GGH home by 2051,” said Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation. “Our regional transportation network needs to be ready to meet the demands that will come with the forecasted population and employment growth. Our government understands that we need a transportation plan that will help us build a better system to keep goods and people moving for decades to come.”

The plan outlined the transportation needs of the GGH, referencing that over the 15-year period of 2001-2016, travel demands on the highways grew three times faster than the rate of new road construction during this time.

The government released a discussion paper to seek feedback from the public to inform the development of a long-term transportation plan for the GGH. With the GGH population forecasted to grow from 10 million in 2019 to 14.9 million by 2051, the government is looking to ensure there’s no gridlock—with $1.16 trillion in goods transported annually on GGH highways.

Mulroney cites that congestion is already costing the economy up to $11 billion in productivity in the GTA and Hamilton area, and that if current trends continue it will get worse. Through the transportation plan, the government hopes to solve these issues with a mix of new infrastructure, services, and policies.

As part of this potential plan, there will be efforts put towards delivering major highway projects, including the GTA West corridor, Bradford Bypass, and twinning the Garden City Skyway. They will also look to expand highways at specific locations to help with congestion—this includes the Highway 401 central section and connections to the outer ring on Highways 400, 401, 403, and the QEW.

The vision outlined by the Provincial government has drawn criticism from the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) who worry about the environmental impacts it will cause.

“According to mapping within the discussion document, our regional future includes more highways and pavement around Lake Simcoe,” said Margaret Prophet, SCGC Executive Director. “Despite strong opposition to the Bradford Bypass that will bisect the lake’s largest and most important wetland—the Holland Marsh—and drastically increase GHG emissions in the area, the government is doubling down on highways in this sensitive watershed.  An additional highway that will connect the 404 to Highways 12/48 will wrap about the southeastern edge of the lake was included in the planned projects.”

A concern of environmental groups has with the Bradford Bypass is that it’s a small start to a larger effort focused on widening highways and building new highways that will hurt the Lake Simcoe watershed.

“Building these highways would worsen Lake Simcoe’s health, no ifs, ands or buts,” says Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “These highway plans do the opposite of what is needed to improve the lake’s health by guaranteeing an increase in salt loads to the lake, and by removing wetlands and forests. Lake Simcoe is in an emergency situation. We must reduce phosphorus and salt sources dramatically; increase natural cover and keep every inch of greenspace and wetland we have. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which is the law, says all this. So once again the province is ignoring the law, and the science. All I can conclude is that the province puts development above all other considerations and has no regard for the health of the Lake and the communities surrounding it.” 

The discussion document outlines the public’s feedback about their priorities for transportation including the top three: making transit as convenient as driving; making getting around healthier for people and the planet; and to make better use of roads and railways we already have.

“I guess those public priorities will only be given credence if you live in vote-rich GTA,” Prophet said. “Between the Bypass and this new highway, we’re essentially building another Highway 413 right around the shores of Lake Simcoe. Who benefits from that?  Not Lake Simcoe or the economies or communities that depend on its health. With all of our communities needing help and businesses struggling, spending over $1 billion to build more highways around Lake Simcoe is the best they can do?”

Environmental groups are asking the public to provide the feedback the Ontario government is looking for by making the environmental concerns known.

The province is seeking feedback on the master transportation plan until August 28, 2021. There is a survey that you can fill out at ontario.ca/form/consultation-greater-golden-horseshoe-transportation-plan-discussion-paper.

By Rob Paul



         


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