Mid-pen review welcomed by grassroots opponents

Dec. 6, - Carmela Fragomeni - The Hamilton Spectator

The provincial Liberal government will keep its election promise to conduct a full environmental assessment of the controversial proposed mid-peninsula highway.

Transportation Minister Harminder Takhar made the commitment in the Ontario Legislature this week after questions from Burlington Conservative MPP Cam Jackson, who favours a full assessment.

A full assessment means carefully examining social, economic and natural land effects of the highway. It also means seriously studying alternatives, such as widening existing highways or creating superior rail and public transit systems. The previous Conservative government insisted on a shortened, "scoped" assessment, which wouldn't do all of that.

Burlington and Flamborough residents, through the grassroots Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE), fought hard for the full assessment, believing it will rule out the Flamborough and Burlington portions.

The highway from Fort Erie, originally slated to end in Hamilton, is proposed to cut through Flamborough, the Niagara Escarpment, and rural north Burlington, to hook up with the 407 toll highway.

COPE co-chair Bob Williams was pleased the McGuinty government is taking "a comprehensive approach." He said the premier would have got an earful if he reneged because "a lot of us worked hard for candidates who supported that position."

Residents worry the proposed highway will produce more smog, unwanted development in urban sprawl and destroy the escarpment and other environmentally sensitive areas.

In Niagara Region, politicians and residents are pushing for the mid-pen, believing it will improve the region's economy while protecting the tender fruitlands by directing growth away from them to the new highway.

Thursday, Erie-Lincoln Tory MPP Tim Hudak urged Takhar to move ahead as soon as possible. He predicts a full assessment will delay the project for years.

Last spring, Burlington council launched a legal challenge against the ministry to force a full hearing, but it was put on hold when then minister Frank Klees agreed to re-examine the issue. Yesterday, Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac was happy Takhar, "is sticking to the policy (the Liberals) ran ... on."

In Hamilton, Flamborough Councillor Margaret McCarthy said Takhar's commitment is good news for her ward, which the highway would dissect.

"Our biggest concern was the push to have it go through, no matter, in spite of all the opposition."

MTO spokesperson Will Mackenzie said ministry staff is reviewing the work done to date and what needs to be done for a full assessment. That review could take a couple of months.

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