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Graham Paine • MWMG

Graham Paine • MWMG

Bill Christmas (foreground) looks at an EA overview chart as Mark Wasilewski looks on during the Feb. 12 public information centre on Niagara to Great Toronto Area transportation options.

Widening highways short-term fix: MTO

By Dennis Smith • SPECIAL TO THE REVIEW

No new highway is lurking around the next bend for Burlington and through Flamborough, but its opponents remain wary.

Widening existing local highways was the plan being recommended at a Niagara to Greater Toronto Area (NGTA) public information centre on last Tuesday (Feb. 12). But Ministry of Transportation officials also recommended having a separate study for a long-term strategy.

“The Hamilton-Halton widenings don’t satisfy the demand to 2031,” said project co-ordinator John Slobodzian. “We want to look at 2031 and beyond.”

Visitors to the session at Holiday Inn Burlington were drawn to two highway options still displayed, including a controversial route through north Burlington to Hwy. 407.

Mayor Rick Goldring noted there’s long-term pressure to have a new highway and he wasn’t comforted by the recommended widenings.

“It’s very much a short-term, Band-Aid solution,” said Goldring. “Do we really want to have major surgery through the Niagara Escarpment? That’s not appealing.”

Both new local highway options displayed under Detailed Assessment (but not recommended) would start at Hwy. 403 near Ancaster.

One would link to Hwy. 401, east of Hwy. 6. The other would cross the escarpment, joining Hwy. 407 near Dundas Street.

Goldring noted the first route goes through a significant agricultural area, while the north Burlington route goes through the greenbelt and the escarpment.

“They’ve heard loud and clear from us that we’re vehemently opposed to a highway through north Burlington,” he said.

However, Goldring added that addressing transportation issues is good for the economy.

“I wish I could pinpoint something, anything that would lead us into a better solution,” he said.

Having extensive transit is the first priority, followed by highway improvements and widenings, said Astrid Poel, a ministry communications coordinator.

“We’re presenting everything and refining and refining it,” she said.

Widenings were recommended for the 407 ETR through Halton, the QEW over the Burlington Skyway, Hwy. 403 through Hamilton and other local highways.

Better funding for transit system co-ordinator Metrolinx is needed, said a member of the Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition and Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment.

“We’re pleased that we’ve bought ourselves some time,” added Monte Dennis. “We’ll continue to push for a balanced, sustainable transportation system.”

He believes goods can be moved on under-utilized railway lines, but said federal government officials don’t seem interested.

“We need a policy for the whole country that takes in all modes of transportation,” he said.

Other Burlington residents were also critical.

Margaret Darnel expressed concern about local highways being built on agricultural land.

“They’re going to widen the highways with our tax dollars. What good does it do in five years?” she added. “We need public transportation.”

Lucyna Swiecki said the information presented was pretty confusing, but feels a highway through the escarpment is still on the table.

“It’s a protected area with species specific to that area,” she said. “I find it unconscionable these days that they’d contemplate having highways through areas like this.”

Jim Hendry noted Waterdown is expanding, contributing to increasing local population and traffic congestion.

“Brant Street is like a parking lot most of the time,” he said.

But Hendry doesn’t expect a new highway in Burlington. “I can’t see the people letting them do it.”

A final transportation development strategy is to be completed by June.

Class environmental assessments will then be required for road widening projects.

The NGTA transportation planning area includes Halton, Hamilton and Niagara.

In the latter region, a new highway is recommended for the Welland – Fort Erie area.

For more information, visit www.niagara-gta.com.

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