Province re-evaluating proposed highway

Dennis Smith July 4, 2003.


Extra care with potential crossings and interchanges on the Niagara Escarpment is now being promised by the province for the proposed mid-peninsula highway.

The Ministry of Transportation will continue working through mid-peninsula issues with Burlington, a spokesperson said Thursday.

"We're going to try and flesh out in more detail what the changes mean," said Brian Kelcey. "We believe the mayor and council are underestimating changes made on their behalf."

Burlington and Halton were suing over the highway's Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference, but since the ministry withdrew that last week, the legal action is on hold. Local politicians, who fear the new route will be connected to Hwy. 407 in Burlington, could re-activate the lawsuit when the revised EA Terms of Reference are filed.

"The big concern of the minister is he didn't want to resolve something in court. He wanted to try and resolve this outside of court," said Kelcey. "It seems silly not to make another try at this with the stakeholders."

He said the ministry hopes to know when it will re-file by the end of the summer. The key revisions include:

Taking best practice approaches to new crossings of the Escarpment -- which could involve rock cuts -- or improvements to existing crossings.

This includes possible tunnelling, and a commitment to locating interchanges and transit stations outside the Niagara Escarpment Plan area.

"There would be a minimum number of exits when we build the highway or transit corridor," said Kelcey. "The more interchanges you have, the more disruption, and it's more likely to disturb what's in the way. We want a project that does little damage and we're reducing the impact."

Not all proposed routes involve escarpment crossings, he added.

Setting out a special study area for the escarpment.

"Our intention is if the route comes close enough to be a concern, it would come under the terms of the study area," said Kelcey.

Acknowledging other planning initiatives under way that will affect the EA, such as development of a Goods Movement Strategy for Central Ontario and the Transit Opportunities Study.

But Kelcey warned a mid-peninsula transportation corridor will still be needed eventually.

"However much you increase transit capacity, there will be a lot of traffic through freight and commercial transportation, and it's traffic that transit cannot pick up," he said. "There are no major alternatives that wipe out the need."

Making further commitments to extensive consultations with local municipalities and other stakeholders, ensuring the NEP and other relevant policies are incorporated into the process.

Clarifying that any routes carried forward for evaluation will not be restricted to conceptual corridors.

"We're flexible," said Kelcey. "There may be another angle to hit for a route and if someone volunteers that, we'll let them."

The ministry had a very thorough needs assessment and doesn't plan on revisiting that stage, said Kelcey.

"The point we have to ask ourselves is, are we going to consult over the same content with the same results," he said. "You would not see results that are terribly different."

Minister Frank Klees said his transportation ministry has always been open to input on the environmental assessment for the mid-peninsula transportation corridor.

He noted Burlington and Halton chose to appeal to the courts rather than allow the environmental process to follow its normal course.

"Unfortunately, Burlington and Halton seem to believe that the congestion we face today, let alone what we face tomorrow, can be addressed without a mid-peninsula transportation corridor," said Klees. "The Eves government believes that taxpayers shouldn't see their hard-earned dollars be wasted on unnecessary and protracted litigation."

A Burlington councillor said a court decision in a Napanee case forced the transportation ministry to reconsider its position.

"We need a full environmental assessment and this will require us to go back to the needs assessment stage," said John Taylor. "We could've done this earlier by splitting it into two parts."

He noted Burlington has sought a proper needs assessment since February, 2002.

Providing details of the revised EA Terms of Reference may be jumping the gun, said Taylor.

The councillor said previous submissions did not mention tunnelling and he doesn't believe the ministry is guaranteeing protection of lands within the special study area.


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