By Doug Draper
The provincial government may have driven the last spike into plans for a mid peninsula highway that would cut a swath through Niagara between the Fort Erie/Buffalo border crossing and the Hamilton/Burlington area.But then maybe not.
“We are not going to just assume we need to pave a mega highway through the (Niagara) escarpment,” Kelly Baker, a spokesperson for Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was quoted saying in a story posted on the Toronto Star’s website this Tuesday, July 26.
The Star story leads with the news that the controversial proposal for the 400-series mid peninsula highway – a proposal that has been on the drawing board for more than a decade now – “will not proceed as planned.”
Gary Carr, the regional chair for Halton, which adjoins the City of Burlington, was quoted expressing his pleasure, following a meeting this April 26 with Wynne, that the mid-pen, known also as the ‘Niagara-to-GTA corridor’, would not be moving forward.
“Together (Halton regional council and Burlington city council) have protected the Niagara Escarpment and our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy,” Carr said.
Gary Burroughs, Niagara’s regional chair, told Niagara At Large this July 27 that it is not completely clear what the report in the Star means. Does it mean that the province is saying there will be not paving of a new highway through the escarpment in the Burlington/Halton area or does it mean that the whole idea of a mid-pen idea has been scrapped?
Burroughs said “it would be a disappointment” for a regional council he chairs that has continued to support a mid-pen highway if the whole plan is being spiked, and “he would be surprised if it has.” He wonders if the province isn’t simply talking about not taking it through escarpment lands in the Burlington area.
When Niagara At Large called Wynne’s office for the clarification Burroughs is seeking, NAL was emailed the following statement from the minister which may not do all that much to clear things up. It reads as follows; “Our economy depends on an efficient, transportation network that supports the movement of goods and people in the Halton and Niagara regions.
The previous (provincial Conservative) government launched into plans for building a mega-highway through the Niagara Escarpment. That is not what we are doing. We want to get it right. That’s why we used a research and an evidence based approach. We are not going to just assume we need to pave a mega highway through the Escarpment.”
“The current NGTA corridor study is a multi-modal study that considering all transportation modes including transit, rail and roads. After extensive public consultation, the NGTA study team has heard the desire for further analysis in the Burlington area of the NGTA study. MTO has committed to completing a more focussed analysis of the transportation options in the Hamilton-Halton area.”
“The Niagara to GTA Corridor Planning study is being conducted as an environmental assessment. The analysis and evaluation of transportation options will consider the economic, community and natural environmental impacts.”
Whether this statement means the government has given a final thumbs’ down to the whole highway idea or just that part that may cut through the escarpment in Burlington is still open to question.
A year ago this spring, the province’s Ministry of Transportation did confirm that as a result of an ongoing environmental assessment study, the highway plan is being placed on the backburner for at least the next two decades while other transportation options, including rail and making more efficient use of existing highways, are being pursued.
Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak has vowed to put the mid-pen highway plan back on a fast track if his party wins this October’s provincial election.
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