Mid Pen opponents getting ready for next round

Dianne Cornish , Flamborough Review
11/26/04 00:00:00

It has been several months since the proposed Mid-Peninsula Highway from Fort Erie to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been in the public limelight. But that doesn't mean interest in the controversial project has waned. In fact, it looks very much like two major players will square off in the next round of public consultations over the proposed 130-kilometre, $1.2-billion superhighway.

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is looking at taking a more active role in championing the project, while a highly vocal citizens' group called COPE (Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment) is not about to let its guard down. COPE, with a membership of close to 1,000, has a pledge from Ontario's Liberal government that the Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor (MPTC) will undergo a full Environmental Assessment (EA). The Hamilton Chamber, on the other hand, wants input into how the EA is scoped and will work to ensure that groundwork already covered in the process, such as a needs assessment study, is not repeated causing unnecessary delay in constructing what the Chamber's Chief Executive Officer John Dolbec describes as "an essential project" to Hamilton's economic growth.

If built, the four-lane rural roadway with a three-metre median and 100-metre wide right of way, could cut a swath through agriculture-rich western Flamborough before proceeding north of Waterdown and crossing the Niagara Escarpment to connect with Highway 407 near Walker's Line in Burlington.

Formed about two years ago, COPE has undertaken an aggressive campaign to stop the highway and look at alternatives to deal with traffic gridlock in the area. The group advocates full exploration of other options besides highway-building, including public transit and rail improvements.

Last Thursday, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at the Hamilton Airport "to test the will of people in the broader business community to form an advocacy group in support of the Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor," Dolbec said.

About 70 people attended the event, including former Hamilton regional chair Terry Cooke, now a senior executive with a local transport carrier business, and former regional Niagara chair, Debbie Zimmerman, now executive director of the Ontario Grape Growers Association.

Former Stoney Creek MPP Brad Clark, who held the post of Minister of Transportation with Ontario's former Conservative government, was also present.

Dolbec said the "basic intent" of forming the advocacy group, which is expected to take shape early next year, is "to make sure there is a balance of information before the public" when the project resurfaces for public discussion.

Right now, there are 800 pages on the Internet opposing the Mid-Pen and very little pointing out the need for the highway, Dolbec said. "There's some imbalance, in terms of public profile," he charged.

Saying "the project is long overdue," Dolbec stressed that "the MPTC is necessary to act as the northern terminus for Continental One," a major north-south highway being built in the United States to open up trade routes for goods from Mexico and the U.S. into Canada. "International trade is absolutely vital to our economy," Dolbec said.

Sue McMaster, a Flamborough resident and co-chair of COPE, said Tuesday she wasn't surprised by the Chamber move. "We had heard rumblings" of an advocacy group being formed, she said.

But she disagrees there has been an imbalance of information relayed to the public about the project.

"It's nice to have balance, but we think it's the citizens' turn (to speak out) because developers and business have had free rein with the Niagara Escarpment," she said. Zimmerman and Clark have been strong advocates of Mid-Pen in the past, she noted, charging that the project only got as far as it did because of their "position of advocacy."

McMaster further charged that "Niagara Region and Zimmerman showed a total lack of regard for any alternatives. It has been highway and highway only mentality" for them, she insisted.

"We think business and societal needs can be met without taking this single-minded approach," she stated.

Asked about a public opinion survey undertaken in June by Hendershot Research Consultants for the Hamilton Chamber which found that almost 80 per cent of area residents support construction of the Mid-Pen, McMaster downplayed the finding.

"The way you phrase a question can determine results," she said. "It doesn't surprise me from the way the question was phrased, they got the result that they did."

Four hundred residents in both the former City of Hamilton and its amalgamated suburbs were asked: "Do you strongly support, somewhat support or not support the construction of the Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor, which includes the new highway?"

A preamble to the question stated, "The province is considering plans to build a Mid-Peninsula Trade Corridor, which would include a new highway running south of Hamilton to expedite traffic flow from the Fort Erie border to the Greater Toronto Area. It will also reduce congestion on the QEW and protect the tender fruitlands in Niagara."

"It's huge conjecture" to state the new highway will reduce congestion on the QEW, particularly since the Mid-Pen is expected to be a toll road which will actually discourage motorists and truckers from using it, McMaster argued. Moreover, gridlock will likely be increased, she said, because "you induce usage of the highway by building it."

Dolbec said the Hamilton consultants who conducted the survey assured the Chamber that its results are "a reasonable reflection of public opinion, plus or minus five per cent, 19 times out of 20."

He said the Chamber sees the highway as essential to Hamilton's economic growth and is hopeful that it will swing near the Hamilton Airport, which "is the driver for Hamilton's economic development."

McMaster said members of COPE will be vigilant as the Mid-Pen process resumes. The province's proposed greenbelt protection legislation is welcome, she said, but doesn't preclude the building of transportation corridors on the protected lands from Niagara Falls to Peterborough.

A section of the plan talks about "accommodating new or expanded infrastructure in the greenbelt," she said. "That looks like a little bit of wiggle room to allow for the Mid-Peninsula Highway," she charged.

Mid-peninsula highway faces big hurdles, says McMeekin

Dianne Cornish

11/26/04 00:00:00
The case for a Mid-Peninsula Transportation Corridor (MPTC) from Fort Erie through Hamilton to Toronto is becoming a 'tougher sell,' Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot) suggested this week. Several new factors have cropped up in recent weeks that "raise a lot of serious questions about the wisdom of that highway," he said Tuesday.

Ontario's proposed greenbelt protection plan will mean it'll become more difficult to support a major roadway through the area west and north of Hamilton which has been designated as "protected countryside" in the plan.

Then there's the federal government's recent decision to inject $2.5 billion into the construction of two major runways at the new Pickering airport.

Add to that the Niagara Region's request for a study to have GO Transit service from St. Catharines to Niagara Falls and together these factors suggest "it's going to become more difficult to support a roadway through that area," McMeekin said.

The Pickering airport announcement is "a significant downer" for those, such as the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, who are pushing for the four-lane highway to run near the Hamilton Airport as a way of spurring economic growth in the area, McMeekin noted.

Expansion opportunities for the Hamilton Airport are put into question by the development of another airport on the east side of Toronto.

Commenting on the Hamilton Chamber's recent move to form an advocacy group to support the highway project, the local MPP said he's not surprised by the action, especially considering the new challenges faced by the MPTC proposal.

Ontario's Liberal government is committed to a full EA (Environmental Assessment) on the project, McMeekin said, adding that the assessment "will review right from the 'get-go' the need for the highway" and will also demonstrate "a willingness to look at all alternatives equitably."

He accused Ontario's previous Conservative government of following "a faulty process" which didn't provide sufficient opportunity for public input at the needs assessment stage.

"This government is going to take the time to do it right," he pledged.

Noting that alleviating gridlock is one of the major reasons put forward by those supporting the need for the highway, McMeekin said the idea of expanded GO service in the area should help relieve some of the traffic pressures.

He said 26 per cent of the Hamilton to Toronto traffic now travels by GO train and if the same can be achieved between St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, it will significantly relieve some of the traffic pressures in the area.

While the greenbelt legislation doesn't preclude the construction of transportation corridors through protected areas, "Anytime you're running any infrastructure through protected greenbelt space, it will become an even more onerous burden to prove the need for it," McMeekin said.

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce publicly announced its support for the highway several months ago. The Flamborough Chamber of Commerce "has not yet taken a formal position" on the issue, its executive director, Arend Kersten said this week.

However, Hamilton mayor Larry Di Ianni has asked the local Chamber to come out in support of the project, he added.

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