Hard To Feel Sorry For Residents Opposed To Proposed Highway 406 Interchange

A Commentary by Doug Draper

At the risk of coming across as a little hard-hearted here, the more I read about the concerns residents in west St. Catharines are raising over plans for a new interchange off Hwy. 406, the less sympathy I feel for these people.

A random moment on the roads of west St. Catharines. file photo by Doug Draper.

The interchange – the subject this February 15 of a first of what is expected to be a series of public information meetings hosted by the City of St. Catharines, Ontario and Niagara’s regional government – is being proposed for the stretch of Hwy. 406 curling through west St. Catharines to address the traffic congestion in that area now, and forecast to grower even heavier in the future.

Residents living in the area say they fear another interchange, just north of an existing one running on and off Fourth Avenue Louth, will only add to the traffic congestion in their west St. Catharines neighbourhood.

Now these folks are concerned about traffic congestion? Have they been paying the slightest bit of attention to what has been unfolding in that area of the region over the past decade or so?
To state what may be  obvious to almost everyone but them, west St. Catharines is a modern-day showcase for everything that “smart growth” is not. It is an ongoing reminder that as much as our municipal politicians and those working in planning and public works for our municipalities talk a good game about building communities that are more compact and friendly to walkers and transit users, and less dependent on trucks and cars, they continue to allow sprawling development to occur at this location, off Woodlawn Road in Welland, in the west end of Niagara Falls, and on and on.

For all too many of our municipal officials, it is as if waxing away about the virtues of ‘smarter growth’ is like spending a few minutes in the confessional after another week of committing sins.

But getting back to these folks in west St. Catharines who are now, all of a sudden, flocking to municipal meetings and the media with their concerns about traffic congestion in their neighbourhood?

Was there no inkling that traffic congestion was going to become a big problem here? Where did they think things were going to go all the while the City of St. Catharines has been spending the last decade or more moving its main retail center (in the form of ever more big box stores, strip malls and the like) from the traditional downtown and older shopping malls to the west end? I don’t remember any of these people going to public meetings and complaining about what this mass movement of chain stores t would do to the volume of traffic in their area.

And what about their own contribution to the traffic mayhem? They are living in a low-sprawl neighbourhood that almost makes it impossible to get around without a truck or car? For that reason alone, most of them are probably doing a lot of driving around and are therefore contributing to a situation where the existing Fourth Avenue interchange and adjoining roads have reached capacity.

Then there is the new hospital complex. More than five years ago, when it was still possible to question the Niagara Health System’s decision to locate the new hospital complex for this region in west St. Catharines, the city and regional government came out with a final report that, among other things, concluded that a new interchange would likely be needed to accommodate the additional traffic this facility would draw.

Where were these west St. Catharines residents when people in other parts of the city and region were arguing back then that this was not the best site for this hospital complex? Why weren’t they standing shoulder to shoulder with residents like Pat Scholfield from south Niagara and others who said at the time that the new complex should go in a more central location in the region where the road services and other infrastructure is already in place to accommodate it?

It was stunning to read in a February 16 edition of the St. Catharines Standard that Kris Jacobson, transportation services manager for St. Catharines, said he doesn’t think future development, including the hospital, is a significant driver for the new interchange. Apparently, he missed some of the meetings and reports this reporter attended and read more than five years ago, including the final report his city participated in with the region’s government, titled ‘West St. Catharines Transportation Study’ and dated May 2006 , in which the study, under the heading “Proposed Hospital Complex,” lists among the top concerns around this complex; “increased traffic generation and its impact on the road networks, “access issues related to emergency vehicles and response times,” “further pressures on the infrastructure – both above and below ground – to accommodate further development,” and “the new (hospital) site’s compatibility with the surrounding area.”

This report and others, including a regional planning department report that warned of traffic and infrastructure pressures the new hospital could bring before the region’s council approve locating the hospital there, were made publicly available at open meetings more than five years ago. And yes, they discussed the possible need for another highway interchange in that area. Yet, I don’t recall any residents from the west St. Catharines area coming to these meetings and expressing their concerns at the time.

Even this past Tuesday night, power point available from the regional government lists the new hospital complex as point number one under the reasons why “future development” has to be considered when forecasting future traffic and the need for a new interchange. I got the impression from what I read in The Standard that Jacobson was at that meeting.

So I have a hard time with people coming in long after it is too late to do anything about where the new hospital should be located or how many more box stores and strip malls should be jammed into west St. Catharines and complaining about the need for a new interchange to relieve traffic congestion.

I have far more sympathy for residents in other parts of Niagara, including Niagara Falls and other municipalities in the south end, who spoke out against this location for a hospital a long time ago.

Unlike the residents of west St. Catharines, they spoke out when something could have potentially been done to press for a better location for this hospital complex, from a smarter growth and more economically sustainable point of view and from a health care point of view. And having been ignored by every body up to and including the last council of the region, the Niagara Health System, the Local Health Integration Network for this region and the provincial government, they will now be forced to join in paying millions of dollars for this new interchange.

Their concerns deserve to be taken far more seriously than those of a group of west St. Catharines resident (with the exception of a few that may have been raising concerns about sprawling development in that area for years) who just woke up and discovered there is a years-old plan for a new interchange on the table and are now yelling; “not in my backyard!”

What do you think? Share your comments below and remember we only post comments from readers who are willing to share their real first and last names as per our ‘Comment Policy’ available for you to check out at the top of our front page.

(Visit Niagara At Large at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary of interest to residents in our greater Niagara region and beyond.)

14 responses to “Hard To Feel Sorry For Residents Opposed To Proposed Highway 406 Interchange

  1. In October/08 I had a personal meeting with former NHS CEO Debbie Sevenpifer at her headquarters in St. Catharines. We argued/debated for over an hour on the location planned for the new hospital. Financial contracts had not been signed yet and I said it was not too late to change their mind.
    My views were the new hospital should be built in a more geographic central location and suggested around the corner of hywy 20 and 406 as the new hospital was going to have a large number of regional services located there, the area was less congested and already had good highway access….and also didn’t have a busy train track adjoining the property. CEO Sevenpifer insisted the hospital was mainly a community hospital for St. Catharines and area, with only a small regional component, and servicing was there and costs would be much more economical.

    I recommended in a letter they do a cost/benefit analysis. They ignored my suggestions.

    If the NHS had not announced they were going to build this $1.5 billion complex on Fourth Ave., it is clear to me the box stores would never have located there. Who made the money on these land sales?

    Since St. Catharines insisted this is their hospital, they should be prepared to pay for the interchanges and road improvements and not ask the citizens of the southern tier to chip in for this. Remember they will be getting the Centre of Excellence in their congested backyard, while the 2nd class citizens in Port Colborne and Fort Erie will have to travel and fight for adequate hospital services.

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  2. Well said. Succint, informed and to the point. Where were these people at public meetings in the last decade, ever, … ever….at city council, Regional council, anywhere ….at all until they ‘woke up’ to what might happen in their neighbourhood? “Too little, too late?” ?

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  3. Eventually the location of the new hospital would impact the citizens of St. Catherines who have been ignorantly blissful about the controversy and anger that has occurred in South Niagara. They got or at least their politicians got what they wanted, so now blame them and leave the rest of us and our wallets alone.

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  4. There are none so blind & deaf as those who WILL NOT SEE & HEAR & then complain about what has happened when others have tried to WARN them about issues that will take place and CHANGE THEIR LIVES!! This is the latest perfect example!! Now we are saying that Niagara Falls & Welland hospitals are “up for grabs too” just like Fort Erie & Port Colborne were.Are you listening out there?????? Once they (NHS, LHIN, HIP) get their foot in the door, they will take over and a shell of a hospital will remain. NOW is the time to voice a strong opposition and join those who are fighting for “Fair & Equal Health Care for ALL” not just the few!!! Not only will St. Catharines get more traffic they will get more people ……. how do you think Fort Erie, Port Colborne, & Welland are going to look in your backyards ….. do you think we’ll all fit or are we going to wait more hours in waiting rooms & in lined up ambulances and people movers while you are complaining and the NHS ,LHIN & HIP continue to TRY and make a bigger mess of what is already a catastrophe. Your voice needs to be heard ….. if not , YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN !!!!!

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  5. Forgot to add Niagara Falls in your back yards as well…..

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  6. NIMBYism at its best. We want the beneficial stuff without the inconveniences. You can’t have both. Everything was rosey because St. Catharines residents were getting a new hospital and to hell with the rest of the peninsula. Now a little snafu arises for them and suddenly they’re up in arms. Where were they all this time when Niagara South residents were pleading for reason? Oh, that was THEIR problem, not ours. Nobody seems to think of consequences any more, only immediate gain. Typical in our society. Selfish or what?

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  7. I doubt that using up further vineyards on what is now zoned ‘protected countryside’ for yet another interchange will alleviate the traffic concerns now present. What it could use is a bridge that connects from Grapeview to Carlton Street. What the new interchance may do instead is provide quick access for short sighted commuting, dirtier air and hotter summers. Perhaps ‘visions 1-7’ could be revisited looking for the healthiest solutions.

    With regard to slamming the locals, or any other section of the region, please keep in mind that the location selected for the hospital was far from the first choice of most residents for a host of reasons.

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    • Wow! Thanks for your insight, Doug Draper, into what a sniveling, whining bunch of morons the residents of West St. Catharines are. Good to know.

      Now here’s the thing… It would not have mattered how much screaming and yelling and “standing shoulder to shoulder” any of us did. Do you actually think this is a democracy? Really? Obviously it didn’t matter that all the “other parts of the city and region were arguing back then that this was not the best site for this hospital complex”. It still got put there, didn’t it? What possible difference would it have made if a few more West St. Catharines people had shown up?

      And as you so eloquently stated, “other parts of Niagara, including Niagara Falls and other municipalities in the south end, spoke out against this location for a hospital a long time ago when something could have potentially been done to press for a better location for this hospital complex”, – that must be a lot of people – and they ALL got ignored.

      So Doug, why don’t you take your sympathy (or lack thereof) and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

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  8. In the 14 months Niagara At Large has been up and running, I think I have included only one or two comments of my own, responding to comments others have made to opinion pieces we have posted here.

    My general rule when it comes readers’ comments, whether they agree with my view or not, is that I already had my say and now it is time for the readers to have theirs But one of the comments above, by Mr. Dooey James, accusing me of probably being a “fat ass” and getting my “hand greased” because I am having a hard time feeling sorry for people in west St. Catharines, Ontario who have suddenly woken up and realized there are plans for a new highway interchange in their neighbourhood is one I feel I must respond to given his rather personal attacks.

    Starting with the idea that I am probably a “fat ass,” sometimes (I must confess) I wish I was one rather than the under-employed journalist I am, too often waking up at 3 a.m. wondering how I am going to pay the bills. And I would almost welcome having my hand greased, if it was by some well-meaning philanthropist who said; ‘Invest this money in building the best independent news and commentary site you can for people in the Niagara region.’

    As for wondering if I have an “on ramp” going past my front yard, I live on Collier Road in Thorold, a very busy feeder road sandwiched beneath one interchange running on and off Hwy. 58 and another at Hwy. 406 and Glendale Avenue, and we have two elementary schools in between. But this was the case when I moved here 20 years ago, and instead of complaining about the interchanges and growing traffic that they and new businesses and subdivisions in our neighbourhood brings, all that I and other neighbours have asked for is some police and traffic-calming strategies to keep drivers from sometimes doing twice the speed limit on a residential road.

    Finally Mr. James, it was “big mouths” like me who tried to sound a warning more than half a decade ago that your neighbourhood would be facing significantly more traffic and the possibility of a new interchange off the Hwy. 406 with the proliferation of big box stores and plans for the Niagara Health System’s mega-hospital complex in west St. Catharines.

    So when you are looking for parties to blame for the value of your home possibly being diminished as a result of all this development, you may want to cast your eyes in a few other directions.

    Doug Draper, Niagara At Large …

    Below is a copy of the comment I am referring to.

    ‘Hey Doug, Where do you get off being so smug? Do you have an on ramp going through your front yard? Obviously you must be getting your hand greased for this you must live uptown and you’re probably some fat ass that has nothing else to do but piss people off. I may as well throw my house away because of big mouths like you.’ – Dooey James

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  9. I would suggest that the problem here is the fat cat corporate people who want to make money in health care by dictating their rules to the locals. I doubt they’re overly concerned about equitable health care, the environment, or errant cars veering off into our living rooms.

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  10. you live in thorold why should you be concerned abot where i live all i need is sobody to wipe out in my yard and sue me because of your stupid opinion and you feel its ok we are bitching about that our house went from 300k to shit you dont live here pull your head out of your ass and think about other people i guess dont care about other people come to my house and see before you gudge other people punk

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  11. These same fat cats own a disproportionate amount of the media. They enrich themselves by telling us how to think, and they aren’t very tolerant of dissenting opinions.

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  12. Doug: You and most of the people out side of St.Catharines seem to forget that this hospital is not a Regional hospital one to replace the two aging hospitals in St.Catharines. That said, I don’t think that it is the area but at least is being built. On the overpass question, an emergency exit ramp from the 406 at Third St., to be used only by emergency vehicles could be constructed for one quarter the price of a full exit ramp which will not ease traffic congestion on Fourth Ave. Look at a map and you will see that all roads lead to Fourth Ave. and Martindale Road so how is this going to help traffic. Think smaller not bigger and save some big bucks. I wrote an article on this back in late January and it was published on The Standard Opinion page. I don’t know the exact date because I’ve been away for a month but I did get a response from both the Niagara Region and the mayor of St.Catharines.

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  13. You raise a good point, Mike Conley. How is an interchange at 3rd Ave going to help to ease traffic congestion on Fourth Ave.? It will certainly make it easier to get to and from the hospital. I don’t know if you attended the public meeting on Feb. 15th, but all the regional and city representatives I spoke to claimed the Hospital was not the main reason for the interchange. It was the traffic congestion that was causing the need for the new interchange. Before they spend $20 to 45 million on this project, I think that question needs to be answered.

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