Greenbelt law could kill new highway, Hudak warns: Tory MPP wants Liberals to get on with needed environmental study

The Standard (St. Catharines - Niagara) Sat 04 Dec 2004 Byline: Kalvin Reid

The provincial government would like to have its greenbelt protections in place by Dec. 15. But unless there is rapid movement on the mid-peninsula highway before that date, it could sound the death knell for the roadway proposed to run south of the escarpment, said Erie-Lincoln Conservative MPP Tim Hudak.

"Once that greenbelt map is enshrined in law, it can't be changed for 10 years," said Hudak, who has crafted a letter to Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar urging him to get on with the environmental study of the highway. "If it is not decided before the map is drawn where the highway is going, we can kiss that highway goodbye for another 10 years."

After they took office a little more than a year ago, the Liberals tore up the terms of reference for the highway drafted by Hudak's Conservative government and started the process all over again. Transportation ministry officials had hoped to have the new terms of reference complete by the fall, but there has been little indication that anything is imminent.

Hudak said it is irresponsible to press ahead with a greenbelt plan that will protect rural land from development without an accompanying transportation plan. "It gives us the frightening spectre that the mid-peninsula corridor may have no room to travel," he said.

Local lobbying efforts for the highway continue, but there is still resistance to the highway in the Halton area. At its Nov. 24 meeting, Halton regional council passed a motion requesting "inter-regional transportation corridors" be deleted from future growth plans. Because the route of the proposed highway will be determined by an environmental assessment that has yet to begin, Halton council has argued the highway "may not traverse the greenbelt."

But Grimsby Regional Councillor Debbie Zimmerman said the province has worked in exemptions for major transportation corridors. "Does that mean Burlington and Halton are not supportive, or does it mean the highway has to go around the greenbelt?" she asked.

Zimmerman and Fluke Transport president Terry Cooke, the former regional Chairman of Hamilton-Wentworth, have been asked to head up a group of southern Ontario chambers of commerce, including St. Catharines, to ramp up lobbying efforts in support of the highway.

"We are going to campaign for the business community to pressure the government," Zimmerman said. "We are going to show where there has been lost business and opportunities because we don't have this highway."

Niagara Region Chairman Peter Partington continues to meet with Hamilton Mayor Larry DiIanni, Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac and Halton Region Chairwoman Joyce Savoline on the issue, although he admits it is usually a two-versus-two discussion.

But the group has agreed to form an executive committee -- which will include two mayors from Niagara -- to begin lobbying the province for some progress on the highway. "We need to push this," Partington said. "We need to let people know it should happen as soon as possible."


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