By Dianne Cornish
The Ontario government appears to favour widening existing highways in the Hamilton and Halton areas rather than building a superhighway across Flamborough farmland and the Niagara Escarpment.
Word of the government’s position came in a letter sent this week by Ontario’s Transportation minister Bob Chiarelli to area MPPs, municipalities and key interest groups, including Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE).
In his message, the minister notes that preferred highway expansion options, “at this time,” include expanding area highways, widening the QEW to eight lanes between Hamilton and St. Catharines and building a new highway corridor south of Welland between Highway 406 and Fort Erie. No mention is made of the four alternative route options that cut through Flamborough, including one that would connect Highway 403 near Ancaster to Highway 407 in north Burlington. The routes are shown on a map displayed on the Niagara to Greater Toronto Area (NGTA) project’s web site at http://www.niagara-gta.com under “Options for Expanding the Highway Network, West Area.”
While Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin sees the minister’s statements as confirmation that “the government has no intention of inflicting a new cross-escarpment superhighway,” longtime highway opponent Sue McMaster of the Rockton area is less confident that ministry staff has closed the book on recommending the building of a 400-series highway through Flamborough.
“We see it as a good sign,” said the co-chair of COPE, of Chiarelli’s statement. But, she also added: “While we are always hopeful, we are also ever vigilant.”
“We take it as a sign that they (the government) are listening,” she said, alluding to the strong protests against the proposed superhighway from COPE and the Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition (SEHC), as well as the City of Burlington.
McMaster said COPE and the SEHC will continue to press the government to look at rail and transit options to handle the increased traffic in the Niagara to GTA. She also said she doesn’t expect the map showing alternate highway routes through Flamborough will be taken off the study group’s web site, describing its continued presence as a sign of “process versus politics.”
The minister’s letter “will keep the conversation going,” she said and that is a good sign.
“It’s good news all around,” McMeekin said of the minister’s letter. “As stated by me in the past, our government is choosing road enhancements, widenings and a new 406 connection from Welland to the 403 rather than a new Mid Pen superhighway through the escarpment as its preferred NGTA transportation option.”
The preferred options outlined in Chiarelli’s letter will be explained in more detail at Public Information Centres in February 2013. Feedback from these consultations will be used to complete the selection of the preferred highway expansion projects and to finalize the NGTA corridor’s transportation development strategy next spring.