March 25, 2009

Erin could become an exit on a major new highway

As published in The Erin Advocate

Within 30 years, Erin could be ensnared in Southern Ontario's ever-widening web of major highways.

Erin is in the middle of a huge C-shaped district called the Greater Golden Horseshoe, curving from the Niagara River up through Kitchener and east to Peterborough. Erin is also in the Greenbelt area, and while the Town is not flagged as a growth centre in Ontario's Places to Grow plan, it is located between places that may need to be connected.

Starting with the QEW, the highway grid wraps around Lake Ontario. For routes like Hwys 403 and 407, the land corridors were reserved decades in advance. Now, Ontario's transportation planners are hard at work on the next strands of the web.

The Ministry of Transportation has conceptual plans for an outer band of limited-access highways. They would not necessarily be 400-series, at least not at first. For the district between Kitchener and Brampton, how will Ontario maintain an efficient east-west flow of goods once no more lanes can be added to Hwy 401? What is the best solution for all those trucks rumbling along Main Street in Erin village?

I attended an information session in Georgetown recently, hosted by a Ministry of Transportation study team for the "GTA West Corridor". They are looking ahead 20 to 30 years, as the area experiences a huge increase in population and economic activity.

By 2031, the population of Erin is only expected to grow by about 3,500 people. But Guelph will gain more than 30,000, and there will be at least 200,000 more in Waterloo Region and 320,000 more in Peel. If new highways are needed, the MTO wants to reserve the land soon.

A formal Environmental Assessment has been launched for the area from Hwy 401 up to the south part of Erin and Caledon, and from Guelph to Highway 400. It will "examine long-term transportation problems and opportunities and consider alternative solutions to provide better linkages between Urban Growth Centres".

They are identifying issues at this stage, and want your views – go to For a taste of the opposition, try, an alliance of groups working to "pry provincial transportation planners away from their road-building bias".

Of course, there is plenty of talk about rail transport and public transit, but inevitably the focus is on highways. The MTO approach is incremental: make the best use of current roads, look for non-road solutions, widen roads in existing corridors, and as a last resort, build new roads.

Apart from urban zones, the major obstacle to an East-West highway is the highly-protected Niagara Escarpment, which runs North-South. To minimize environmental impact, a major highway would likely use an existing corridor through the Escarpment.

Ministry staff would not speculate about a route, but you and I are free to do so. If a new highway is needed, here is my scenario, set in the late 2030's, based on the broad "conceptual" transportation corridor in the 2006 Places to Grow plan.

From Kitchener, the new highway could come to Guelph along Hwy. 7, bypass the city to the north, then cut east, crossing Wellington 124. It could bypass Rockwood and Acton, run parallel to Hwy 7, then join Trafalgar Road near Silver Creek to descend the Escarpment. To avoid Georgetown, it would have to cut east between Glen Williams and the Escarpment, then run parallel to Mayfield Road over to Hwy 10, where it would be in perfect alignment with the latest section of Hwy 410.

If this route was unacceptable, the MTO could look north, perhaps punch through the escarpment between Glen Williams and Terra Cotta, or push the route more into Erin and use Mississauga Road to descend the Escarpment.

If they prefer to go further north, outside the current study area, they could run the highway along Wellington 124, bypass Erin village to the north, carry on to Caledon village, cut south to descend the Escarpment on Hwy 10, and join Hwy 410 at Snelgrove. The Caledon route would also extend the web towards the Hwy 9 corridor, providing a link with Alliston, Newmarket and Hwy 404.

If the possibility of a major highway through Erin seems unthinkable, we should look around the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and think again.