Province urged to keep up drive for highways

St. Catharines Standard - Kalvin Reid - Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Ontario, and Niagara in particular, canít afford to put a halt on highway projects, says Niagaraís regional chair-elect.

For Peter Partington, proceeding is especially important because those highway plans include a new swath cutting across the southern tier of the peninsula and a 400-series highway connecting Port Colborne to the QEW.

"We have to carry on," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Our proposed growth and our attractiveness as a place to live are not going to stop.

"We have to ensure Niagara remains as a crossroads of North America and not a bottleneck."

The newly formed Ontario Smart Growth Network, a consortium of 39 environmentally sensitive groups, has called on the government to put a moratorium on all highway expansions and freeze all urban boundaries in an effort to curb sprawl and preserve greenspaces and farmland.

They are also calling for greater investment in public transit options.

"It reflects a lot of what weíve been saying on the (mid-peninsula highway) for a while," said Jason Thorne, executive director of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment, a member group of the smart growth network. "We need a broader approach to look at alternatives.

"Before we commit to spending a lot of money on big projects, letís look at the big picture."

Partington said developing better public transit and expanding Ontarioís highway network do not have to be exclusive initiatives.

They can be done in conjunction with one another.

"Itís the way it has to be," he said. "We have to have a system for what we are now, a society dependent on moving goods and people with trucks and cars.

"But looking down the road, we have to try where we can to implement public transit, and that means bringing GO Transit to Niagara."

Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar indicated to The Canadian Press the government has no intentions of putting a moratorium on highway projects.

St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, the minister of tourism and recreation, could not be reached for comment.

While disappointed with the governmentís dismissal, Thorne said Liberal commitments to conduct a full environmental assessment for the mid-peninsula highway and develop a Greater Toronto Area transit authority give him cause for hope.

"The mid-pen is probably the most significant project on the books," Thorne said.

"Most of them are expansions of existing highways, but the mid-pen is the most expensive, biggest and most controversial.

"Itís not just CONE that is watching this one closely."

Partington has expressed clear support for the mid-peninsula highway and the expansion of Highway 406 through Welland to Port Colborne.

Both were key tenets of the speech he delivered to regional councillors prior to his election as chair last week, and he re-iterated his support for them to reporters following his election.

Partington will be sworn in as chair Dec. 11.

"It is important to make sure we get it right and do it in an environmentally sound manner," Partington said.

"But we canít afford to stop it. We have to continue."

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