March 31, 2010

Public input crucial for highway improvements

As published in The Erin Advocate

They actually wrote back to me, and it wasn't a form letter. In December, I wrote to the Ministry of Transportation team that is planning new links for the Brampton-Milton-Guelph area, voicing opposition to a major highway through the Escarpment and the farms of south Erin.

"In regards to your comments about making every possible effort to avoid crossing the Niagara Escarpment with new transportation infrastructure, the EA (Environmental Assessment) process being followed by the GTA West Project Team is designed to carefully consider potential impacts to environmental features including the Niagara Escarpment, Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine and other conservation areas during the generation and evaluation of alternatives."

The language may be bureaucratic, and it isn't signed by an individual, but at least someone read my letter and took the time to respond. My view that it would be better for the economy to build a highway from Brampton to Milton, south of Georgetown, instead of to Guelph via Erin has been "noted".

They made no comment about the possibility of expanding Wellington Road 124 or other roads like Winston Churchill, other than to say that public feedback and other factors are being weighed to come up with a "recommended" strategy, to be presented at a Public Information Centre this spring.

When I expressed concerns about the high rate of growth in Southern Ontario, they reminded me that the Ontario government has identified growth centres like Brampton, Milton and Guelph, and that their job is to improve transportation linkages.

Ontario's Places to Grow program attempts to manage growth in a way that "supports economic prosperity, protects the environment and helps communities achieve a high quality of life." This includes "more compact" communities, to avoid urban sprawl. The Greater Golden Horseshoe is expected to add 3.7 million more people by 2031. Do we need that many more people, or could we manage with 2.7 million? How about 1.7 million?

I was surprised to learn that the population of Brampton is estimated at 510,000. It was only about 180,000 when I worked there in 1985, when it was already one of Canada's fastest-growing cities, having added 100,000 people in the previous ten years.

I suggested to the GTA Project Team that a GO Transit shuttle bus service between the Georgetown train station and nearby communities would make better use of the rail capacity, which is now being expanded. They said they are already recommending expansion of inter-regional GO Bus routes to feed GO Rail stations.

With a recent provincial budget that deferred many transit projects, we shouldn't expect much soon. But still, bus service is an achievable goal that Erin should lobby hard to obtain, since it would be a substantial benefit for many residents and businesses.

In other commuter news, the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment for rebuilding Winston Churchill Boulevard from Olde Baseline Road to the top of the Terra Cotta hill has been completed.

Project Manager Solmaz Zia said that in response to public concerns, "a number of adjustments were made to limit grading impacts to properties, heritage stone fences and mature trees along the existing right-of-way."

The project will resolve serious safety issues on the road, but result in more traffic through Terra Cotta. The two-lane road will be paved, with improved sightlines and drainage, and the speed limited reduced from 70 to 60 kph. There will be four-way stop signs at Ballinafad Road and Olde Baseline. Zia said that wildlife habitat will be protected in compliance with the Ontario Endangered Species Act.

Objections to the plan can be submitted until May 4. If they cannot be resolved in discussion with Peel Region, any person or group can request that the Minister of the Environment order further review. The ministry would make the final decision.