December 16, 2009

Major highway would harm Erin and escarpment

As published in The Erin Advocate

Would you rather have a major highway cutting through southern Erin, or an expansion of County Road 124 to four lanes from Guelph to Caledon, including a bypass of Erin village?

Those are just two of many options being considered by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), figuring out how to move people and freight between Guelph and Highway 400 as the population of Southern Ontario grows. It may be 10-20 years before any new highways are built, but preferred routes and strategies will be chosen in the next few months.

Erin is on the northern fringe of the GTA West study area. The third round of public information sessions was held recently, part of an Environmental Assessment looking at improved public transit, rail service and roads. There will be more sessions next year, after the preferred routes are chosen.

The road options fall into two groups. The first involves widening existing routes like County Road 124, Highway 7, Trafalgar Road and Mayfield Road, and building bypasses around urban areas. The second is "New Transportation Corridors" – major highways, complete with separate, dedicated bus lanes.

The planning at this stage is based solely on the forecast demand for transportation by 2031, without regard for impact on people and the land. Details about how to minimize the damage will be determined later, as will the exact routes.

One issue for planners is the volume of traffic that will flow from Kitchener-Waterloo to Guelph on an expanded Highway 7. Do they channel most of it south on the Hanlon Expressway, or build a major new highway through a Northern Corridor, between Acton and Erin village? The project would cut a new path through the Niagara Escarpment, allowing the highway to run east near Mayfield Road to join Highway 410.

Three other major highway corridor paths are being studied, all running south of Georgetown. They would link the 410-Mayfield route either with Highway 407 at Winston Churchill, with Milton, or with Highway 6 by running parallel to Highway 401 through Puslinch (see map).

I asked MTO Senior Transportation Planner Jin Wang what the impact would be on County Road 124 if the Northern Corridor is chosen for a major highway. He said there would be no need to upgrade 124 to four lanes. "We would do one or the other," he said.

My property lies within the fuzzy-edged potential Northern Corridor, but I can still say objectively that any benefits from a major highway through Erin would not justify the cost – in dollars, environment damage or social disruption.

As the MTO documents note, it would affect the rural character of communities, disrupt escarpment and Greenbelt lands, break up farms, destroy prime farmland, generate more noise and light in the countryside and have the "potential to impact cultural features near Ballinafad and Cheltenham."

If the Northern Corridor is chosen, the uprising of public opposition will make the multi-million dollar battle over the Rockfort Quarry seem like a minor skirmish. (Will the government be inclined to allow construction of a quarry, knowing that it could provide the material needed to build its web of highways?)

The loss of farmland south of Georgetown would be regrettable, but it would make more sense to forge a major highway link with the 407 or with Milton, and simply widen County Road 124 in the north. That would avoid a new cut through the escarpment, although it could mean expanding Highway 401 to 14 lanes near Milton. Lanes could be also added to other existing roads if more capacity was needed to move traffic between Erin and the Mayfield Road corridor.

As for a bypass around Erin village, it may not be a local decision if the government decides it is needed to serve the needs of the provincial economy. The MTO is well aware that bypasses "may reduce exposure for businesses in existing built-up areas", but eventually there could be so much truck traffic between Guelph and Alliston that a bypass will be a necessity.

If you want to stay informed or submit your comments to the MTO planners, go to