June 23, 2010

Highway corridor will go south of Georgetown

As published in The Erin Advocate

The idea of a major highway corridor connecting Brampton and the north end of Guelph has been rejected by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). One of four routes under consideration, it would have sliced through the Niagara Escarpment and the farms of south Erin.

At an open house last week in Brampton, Senior Transportation Planner Jin Wang said the MTO has narrowed the plan to two possible southern routes, as part of the GTA West Environmental Assessment. All methods of moving people and freight are being studied, with a 20-year time frame.

"Very high growth is expected in the GTA area, and we have to plan now," said Wang. "We need a full suite of transportation improvements."

A new highway, likely with a parallel bus transitway that could be converted to rail in the future, will start at Hwy. 400 in Vaughan, as a third major east-west route north of Hwys. 401 and 407. Coming west, it will merge with the recently completed Hwy. 410, and continue along the Mayfield Road corridor towards Georgetown. At that point, it could have cut north towards Erin.

"That would have had a very high impact on the environment, on farmland and on communities," said Wang. Instead, the route will go south of Georgetown, linking to Hwy. 401 either at the Hwy. 407 interchange near Winston Churchill, or further west near Tremaine Road in Milton. The fourth option, now rejected, was to run the highway from Georgetown, parallel to the 401, making a new cut through the escarpment to join Hwy. 6 south of Guelph.

Milton Regional Councillor Colin Best, representing Halton Region on a municipal task force reviewing the plans, had lobbied to have the highway take one of the northern routes. This would have preserved industrial and farm lands near Milton, taken more commuters off the 401 and provided an alternative to Hwy. 7 through the Georgetown-Acton area.

If the highway heads south along the Peel-Halton border to the 407, it will be part of an already-planned municipal freeway, which will intersect with a Hwy. 7 bypass of Norval. Hwy. 401 would have to be expanded to 12 lanes (express and collector) leading to Milton. The MTO plan is to be finalized by the end of this year, and public comments are still welcome. Go to www.gta-west.com.

The route through Erin would have deferred the need to widen County Road 124 between Guelph and Caledon, with an Erin bypass, so that pressure will continue to increase.
MTO Information Officer Will MacKenzie, however, suggested that evolution of the highway web might eventually give Erin some relief from the truck traffic between the Alliston Honda plant and the Cambridge area. Alliston is on Hwy. 89, west of Hwy. 400.

With current improvements to Hwy. 89, plus eventual widening of Hwy. 400 to 10 lanes, shippers may find it easier to go east to the 400, then south to the new highway, instead of coming west through Erin.

Public transit is touted as the top priority and a new study is being undertaken of "inter-regional transit opportunities". The MTO wants to "identify rural areas that warrant transit connections", which could mean a GO bus link from Erin to the "spine" – the GO Train station in Georgetown. We could also be a stop along the way if a bus link is established between downtown Guelph and downtown Brampton.

They are even studying the possibility of new rail connections, including the "potential to implement commuter rail transit on active tracks or on reconstituted abandoned tracks". It seems unlikely, but it is interesting to imagine a resurrection of the Elora-Cataract rail line that put Erin on the map 131 years ago.

With the population exploding all around us, who knows what might happen?