Burlington and Halton deserve seats at the table

Casey Korstanje The Hamilton Spectator- July 2, 2003.

Mid-peninsula highway: Needed road faces delay

It's too bad it took the threat of a court challenge to help Transportation Minister Frank Klees open his eyes to the concerns of Burlington and Halton around the proposed mid-peninsula highway.

It's the first sign the government is considering the possibility of exploring the "smart" part of its Smart Growth development strategy instead of concentrating solely on the "growth" part.

A cynical person might suggest the recent loss in court the province suffered in a remarkably similar suit over telescoping the environmental assessment process (in this case involving a landfill expansion) might have sharpened the minister's thinking.

We believe a mid-peninsula highway is sorely needed to relieve the ever-growing traffic load clogging the QEW along the Niagara Peninsula.

There is a need to relieve congestion at the border to facilitate the movement of trucks to and from the United States. And we believe a mid-pen highway, as highways do, will spur economic growth in Niagara, in Hamilton and, frankly, in Burlington.

The enviable assessment growth of Burlington and Halton has a lot to do with their proximity and access to the QEW, the 403 east of Oakville and the 407.

But, as the half-century of wrangling over the Red Hill Creek project so amply demonstrates, ways to stop a project from happening are legion if people's concerns are not adequately addressed.

It's early days still as far as the mid-peninsula megaproject goes and the province can congratulate itself on good progress made. After all, Niagara and Hamilton have virtually signed on.

But Burlington and Halton are balking at the prospect of the superhighway crossing the escarpment and running into rural north Burlington just south of Number One Side Road and then linking with the 407. Consequently, unless the province unplugs its ears and steps up its communication and consultation, Burlington and Halton will shut them out.

The province will be quick to point out the Burlington option, or "option C" as the proposal flags it, is just one of three routes under consideration. But few people consider options "A" and "B" -- hooking onto the 403 somewhere along the Ancaster hill or meeting Highway 6 south of Clappison's Cut -- as, to use a military term, not much more than countermeasures designed to hide one's true intentions.

The province must deal openly with Burlington's concerns even if it means a broader assessment. Burlington and Halton have indicated their willingness to work toward finding a solution. The province has signalled that the terms of the project and assessment would be rewritten. Given the depth of concern around the plan, those terms need to be drafted with all parties at the table or we'll find ourselves back to square one with a highway that doesn't go anywhere.

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