12-lane 403 a possibility
But alternatives to route through Burlington raise other concerns

Nov. 23, The Hamilton Spectator
Carmela Fragomeni
The Hamilton Spectator

Widening Highway 403 through Hamilton and Ancaster and filling in part of the marshlands of Cootes Paradise are part of a new proposal to construct the mid-peninsula highway.

It would mean doubling the 403 lanes to 12 from six, and cutting into the Niagara Escarpment at the Ancaster hill.

It's one of two alternatives to the mid-peninsula highway route through Burlington, where there is a groundswell of opposition to the project. The province is now conducting environmental assessments on the Burlington route and the alternatives to determine the best one for the proposed $1.2-billion Fort Erie-to-Burlington highway that Ontario hopes to build in the next decade.

Fred Leech of the Ontario Transportation Ministry said widening the 403 requires cutting across the face of the escarpment from Ancaster down, and rebuilding the bridges on King and Main streets over the 403. The strip of highway through Hamilton is narrow, and widening it near Cootes Paradise would mean filling in a section of the ecologically sensitive marsh, or moving a section of railway line that handles passenger and freight trains.

The 403 option ends the mid-peninsula highway at the 403, somewhere near Ancaster. Since the route is still very preliminary, Transportation Ministry staff cannot pinpoint where the mid-peninsula will intersect the 403. The traffic funnelling onto the highway would lead vehicles to an interchange in Burlington where drivers would hook up with the tolled Highway 407.

The other option connects the mid-peninsula to Highway 401, west of the escarpment, near Guelph Line.

The mid-peninsula highway proposal is based on a Transportation Ministry study showing the highway is required in the next 30 years.

Hamilton Mayor Bob Wade wants to hear from city staff before deciding how he feels about the latest plan. He said the mid-peninsula highway is at least 10 years away and "any number of things can happen ...

"There's no point in fighting the battle before you know the enemy or what the battle is all about."

Councillor Murray Ferguson of Ancaster is "somewhat surprised" about it. "When you start cutting for lanes into the escarpment, plus the homes (up top) that would have to go, and all the bridges that would have to be widened -- those are major issues."

He also said it would take out the Desjardins Canal, a water reservoir, and cut into the Chedoke Golf Course.

The province says the highway is needed because of future population growth, for economic success, expanding trade with the United States, tourism travel and to alleviate growing congestion on existing highways. It will also increase accessibility to the Hamilton airport and southwestern Ontario, while preserving Niagara's fruit lands.

Ministry staff are holding more public information centres next week -- Tuesday in Lynden at the Rockton World's Fairgrounds, Wednesday in Welland at the Royal Canadian Legion, and Thursday in Burlington at the Holiday Inn. Each takes place from 3 to 9 p.m., with a presentation at 6:30 p.m.

The Hamilton 403 option is angering environmental groups and the Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC).

Marilyn Baxter of BARC said the council has already written the province to "take heed of the habitat restoration work already done there." The widening would considerably hurt those efforts, which include a $2-million fishway, a barrier to prevent harmful species from migrating into Cootes from the harbour.. BARC also called for a reassessment of whether the mid-peninsula is really needed.

Jason Thorne of the Coalition on the Escarpment is also angered and concerned about cutting into the limestone escarpment.

Labour Minister Brad Clark was part of a group of area MPPs who announced the alternative routes. Clark, MPP for Stoney Creek, said yesterday he is glad alternative routes have been included, "which is what the citizens wanted."

He also said it is premature for him to prejudge the 403 widening.

The Hamilton option was added after Burlington residents and councillors pushed for new alternatives. They don't want the mid-peninsula to be built through north Burlington and are anxious to find options.

David Eckersley of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment said three possible routes are better than one, but insists the province is still not listening. He said all three routes would affect Hamilton (the Burlington route puts the mid-peninsula through parts of Flamborough), and he, too, would like the highway rethought.

Councillor Marvin Caplan, whose ward includes Cootes Paradise, said "I can tell you my constituents will be upset. They already have a lot of noise and pollution now."

In Burlington, Mayor Rob MacIsaac and Councillor John Taylor are angry, suggesting the 403 alternative is so implausible it will be ruled out quickly.

"Everything still leans heavily on the Burlington route and adding the two alternatives may not mean much," said MacIsaac.

Taylor considers the 403 alternative "a non-starter" because Transportation Ministry staff have already spoken against it at public meetings.

Burlington residents are worried the new highway through the city's north end will bring more smog, noise and pressure to allow more development into the rural area. They also feel it will deteriorate their quality of life.

Taylor and residents had pushed the ministry to include options to the Burlington route.

MacIsaac said the inclusion of alternatives demonstrates the government is now showing some flexibility. But he still believes the ministry needs to back up a bit and study the Hamilton-Burlington area transportation needs as comprehensively as it did those in the Niagara region.

"If properly conducted, the needs assessment would more thoroughly look at transit."

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