Guelph’s representative at Queen’s Park says opposition is growing against a proposed 400-series highway that, if built, will cut through part of the province’s protected Green Belt.
The GTA West Highway project, which is also being referred to as Highway 413, is proposed to run east-west along some of the same route as the existing Highway 407.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Mike Schreiner, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader, said the government is fast-tracking the project, but notes that opposition is growing by the day for the expected six to 10 billion dollar price tag.
“Even people who initially supported this highway project are now starting to raise concerns or actually come out against it, or the enthusiasm of their support is not as good as it used to be,” said Schreiner. “I think people are recognizing is 10 billion dollars to save people 30 seconds where the government should prioritize limited fiscal resources and wouldn’t they be better spent on enhancing all-day, two-way GO and GO expansion the region and other priorities related to addressing the COVID pandemic and the recovery.”
Schreiner suggested other possible uses for the money earmarked for the project, including COVID relief efforts, dealing with the infrastructure backlog for existing highways, roads and bridges, as well as reinstating paid sick days in the province as a measure to combat COVID-19.
“There are other priorities for six to two billion dollars than a highway that is only going to save people thirty seconds on their commute times and increase risk of flooding, post significant risk to our food and farming economy, food security,” said Schreiner.
In recent days, the city council of Mississauga passed a motion opposing the construction of the 413 and Halton Hills councillors have been fighting the proposed highway for months.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, who represents Wellington-Halton Hills, recently said the project should not go forward.
“I would assume in the same way that I want to be a strong voice for the people of Guelph, that Michael Chong wants to be a strong voice for the people in Wellington-Halton Hills and the fact that he has a local municipality and a local popular mayor who is opposed to the highway, he wants to reflect the views of his constituents,” said Schreiner.
Shakiba Shayani, president and CEO of Guelph Chamber of Commerce, said on Tuesday that congestion in the movement of people and goods is a significant challenge businesses are facing and it is hindering the region’s competitive edge and that must be weighed against any opposition.
A 30-second time savings by using the proposed highway may not seem like much, but for a business that makes hundreds or thousands of of trips a month, it wouldn’t take long for it to realize significant savings of time and money.
“Public outcry and environmental concerns need thoughtful attention,” said Shayani. “We’re happy that the province is continuing with consultations and that there will hopefully be a more comprehensive review and assessments completed.”
In the meantime, said Shayani, investments in public transit priorities, like two-way all-day GO service, is crucial to reducing congestion while making a tangible impact on the environment.
Schreiner agrees investing in regional transit would free up traffic congestion and also recommends the province make use of the highway they already have, the 407 toll highway. One idea is for a dedicated truck lane on the 407.
“What some businesses have said, from a fiscal standpoint, why would we pay six billion for a new highway when this is literally going to travel the same route as an existing highway that is under-utilized and why doesn’t the province work out some kind of agreement with the 407 that could likely be done at a much lower cost?” said Schreiner.
The proposed Highway 413 would be an environmental disaster and add to sprawl, said Arlene Slocombe, executive director of Wellington Water Watchers.
“The former Liberal government asked some hard questions about this project when it was on the table several years ago,” said Slocombe. “The hard answers that were revealed showed that this project is unnecessary and harmful.”
Slocombe would like to see more protections within the Green Belt, including not allowing large infrastructure projects such as another major highway, aggregate extraction or consumptive water taking and she notes decisions on land-use planning require consent from treaty partners derived through nation-to-nation consultation.