By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors are gassing up a proposal to get the Niagara to GTA Corridor planning officials to add a new southern highway option through the Niagara Peninsula to the transportation strategy’s draft recommendations.
“They are missing the boat here,” saidStoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “You need a highway from Welland to Hamilton.”
City Manager Chris Murray said among a number of Niagara municipalities there is some discomfort about the transportation options the Niagara to GTA document identifies that doesn’t include a new highway.
“There is a collection of municipalities that are concerned,” he said.
The Niagara to GTA transportation strategy’s preferred options, released to the public last month, eliminated a new southern highway through the Niagara Peninsula from any future plans for the area for at least the next 18 years, raising alarm bells from someHamiltonpoliticians arguing it could potentially wreck city’s industrial growth.
“The mayors should be concerned about not having to do further studies (on a Mid-Peninsula highway),” said Clark. “This isn’t about politics. You bottleneck it in Niagara, you screw Hamilton. This part of the report is a failure.”
John Slobodzian, project coordinator for the NGTA Corridor, told members of the government issues committee March 20, the preferred options to improve the area’s transportation system include adding two more lanes along Queen Elizabeth Way from Niagara through Hamilton, including over the Burlington Skyway; building two more lanes for Highway 403 from King Street to Jerseyville, Highway 6 from 403 to the Hamilton Airport, and Highway 407 through Halton. A new highway is proposed from the QEW to Welland in the Niagara area.
Slobodzian acknowledged building two additional lanes, which will be devoted to high occupancy vehicles along Highway 403, and on the QEW through Halton, won’t meet the additional transportation needs for that area within 18 years.
Slobodzian said the province will continue to monitor the transportation issues along the QEW in the Niagara area, where the extra two lands will meet future use. Still, provincial officials will continue to determine future transportation expansions to 2040 and beyond for the Niagara area.
“We are not saying (a new highway) is not needed,” said Slobodzian. “We do stand by our forecast, including the goods movement.”
But Clark argued that if there is construction along the QEW towards Niagara, Hamilton businesses will feel the economic pinch.
“I predict you will have losses in companies moving south of the border,” said Clark.
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead said an accident on the QEW in the Niagara region, will paralyzes the roadway, and hinder Hamilton businesses from transporting their goods.
“That concerns me,” he said. “We need to reiterate our disappointment in the Mid-Peninsula. It doesn’t meet the needs of the (city’s) economic development.”
The committee requested city staff meet with transportation officials in New York State about the need for easy highway access for businesses. In addition, city officials should also meet with provincial officials to include an alternative highway connecting from Hamilton to Welland.
Meanwhile, the Niagara to GTA preferred options also includes further reviewing a potential highway through Flamborough to Halton.
Slobodzian said this study doesn’t include a roadway through Flamborough, an idea that Hamilton councillors, and local residents have opposed. But further discussions will be held with local stakeholders about a potential highway that may be needed over the next 30 to 40 years.
“What is the appropriate timeline? We need to begin the conversation,” said Slobodzian.
Other councillors were worried the province was focusing too much on highways and not enough on other modes of transportation, such as trains, and buses.
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie said the plan seems to look only at building more roads for cars, without studying the impact more roadways will have on the environment, the air quality, and green house gases.
He said the project, which has been in the review stage since at least 1998, was created in conjunction with GO Transit, and Metrolinx projects.
“Both are needed,” he assured politicians. “It’s not a question of one or the other. We are providing a choice. There will still be a need for a highway.”
Clark, a former provincial transportation minister, did praise the study, and preferred options, saying it’s the first “truthful document to come out of the MTO in a long time.”
He said despite some futurists and activists, people driving vehicles will not stop driving on highways and all jump into trains and buses.
But he wanted the preferred options to be approved soon, and the construction begins as fast as possible.
Provincial planners will present the final recommendations for the Niagara to GTA corridor strategy to the Transportation Minister Glen Murray in June for approval. Costs and funding for the projects still need to be determined. The province still has to outline when construction on the highways will begin.