COPE to remain vigilant during new review of mid-pen corridor

Dianne Cornish Feb 25, 2005

Despite a decision by Ontario's Liberal government to put the Niagara to GTA transportation corridor through a full environmental assessment (EA), a local environmental group remains committed to maintaining its vigilance through the process.

COPE - Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment - remains as determined to thwart the construction of any major highway across the escarpment as it did when formed two years ago. "We are cautiously optimistic at this point with what the MTO (Ontario's Ministry of Transportation) has come up with" in preparing a draft EA Terms of Reference for the proposal, north Burlington and COPE co-chair Dave Bailey said last week. But the group wants to make sure there are no pre-conceived ideas that a major highway from Fort Erie, through Flamborough and north Burlington, to the GTA, is the only solution to address growing traffic pressures in and around Niagara Region.

Instead of a new highway, COPE is promoting the expansion of existing highways, as well as rail and marine systems. "The idea of building a new highway is not the ultimate answer because a highway very quickly becomes a parking lot," Bailey observed, meaning that more highways add to traffic gridlock by promoting road travel instead of transit or other modes of transportation.

Plans for the 130-kilometre, $1.5-billion superhighway, previously called the MPH (Mid-Peninsula Highway) and now referred to in government documents as the Niagara-GTA Corridor, have been dormant in recent months after a failed attempt by the previous Conservative government to scope the EA - an approach that would effectively shorten the planning process and limit public input. The current provincial government recently published a notice asking for public comment on the Niagara to GTA EA Terms of Reference. It says the new assessment "will define transportation problems and opportunities within the Niagara to GTA area; assess current and future transportation needs; and examine a full range of reasonable solutions."

Comments on the draft Terms of Reference will be collected until April 20, after which public consultations will be held to review "the process and criteria for generating and assessing alternative solutions" to future traffic capacity issues.

While this seems to dovetail nicely with COPE's plan to look at all transportation options, Bailey said there's need for a cautious approach. He points to the government's recently-released greenbelt protection plan which discusses accommodating new or expanded infrastructure in the greenbelt.

The province's proposed legislation doesn't preclude the building of transportation corridors on the protected lands from Niagara Falls to Peterborough, COPE's other chair, Sue McMaster of the Troy area, stated in an interview with the Review last fall. "That looks like a little wiggle room to allow for the MPH," she said at the time.

Her assessment is shared by other members of COPE, which continues to hold a membership of about 1,000. About one-fifth of its members hail from Flamborough, Bailey estimated.

Bailey said COPE plans to remain watchful of the EA process and "is in the process of putting its thoughts together" for a submission to the MTO by the April 20 deadline.


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