By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) will be out in force at three provincially-organized public meetings scheduled for later this month, to make sure the province doesn’t endorse a new superhighway through Flamborough and Halton Region.
The province’s Niagara-to-GTA study team is hosting three public meetings to unveil the preferred draft options to improve the transportation routes in the area. These include expanding the Queen Elizabeth Way and Hwy. 403 through Hamilton and Halton, widening the QEW through Hamilton to St. Catharines to eight lanes and building a new highway south of Welland connecting Hwy. 406 to the QEW.
“It does have some of the features from our input,” said Sue McMaster, co-chair of COPE. “It’s clear what is needed: to remove the traffic gridlock. It is such a problem. This will be a great opportunity to talk to (provincial officials) about the project and determine our next step.”
McMaster said COPE in the past has advised the province to look at alternative transportation options such as rail and ship and widening existing highways, rather than building a Niagara-to-Greater Toronto Area superhighway from Fort Erie, through Hamilton, to Toronto.
The public meetings will be held Feb. 12 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Burlington, Feb. 13 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Welland, and Feb. 19 at the Ancaster Fairgrounds’ Marritt Hall.
It remains unclear whether the province continues to study a route to build a potential Niagara to GTA corridor. A map on the NGTA website still shows possible routes through Halton Region for such a project. The map drew criticism from Halton officials and COPE last year, raising alarm bells that the province was still reviewing the idea to build the road after the Liberals prior to the 2011 election stated the idea was dead.
There has been some suggestion from provincial transportation officials that an eight-lane QEW will be overwhelmed with traffic within 20 years and a new southern Niagara highway may have to be constructed to alleviate the pressure. The Progressive Conservatives have already endorsed the idea.
But Hamilton and Halton councils have opposed any plans for the roadway being built in their communities. Hamilton councillors last year endorsed a motion from Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge to remove Flamborough from the NGTA study area. Last November, officials from area municipalities, including Hamilton, met to discuss the province’s transportation plans.
Partridge said city staff has asked provincial officials to appear before city council in January, to review their plans, but so far no schedule has been set.
Input from the public meetings will be incorporated into the NGTA’s final transportation development strategy that is expected to be released later this spring.
“We can only remain vigilant,” said McMaster. “We intend to continue to do so. It doesn’t make sense to put a road through that area. (The province) is still talking about 2031, and the need for more roads. They have this tunnel vision that goes against the cost-benefit analysis of building more roads.”