The Bradford Bypass and the Need for Evidence-Based Decision Making

UPDATE: The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has responded to our concerns laid out in this blog. Click here to read their response in full. 


The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers is calling on the Ontario Government to properly answer the concerns raised through its plan to build the Bradford Bypass, which would run through Ontario’s Greenbelt. The Bradford Bypass, also known as the Highway 400–404 Link is a proposed east–west 400-series highway in the northern Greater Toronto Area.

Engineers, according to the Professional Engineers Act, must ensure that life, health, property, and the public welfare are protected. Engineers know that protecting the environment is essential to promoting a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for current and future generations. That’s why the dedicated members who serve on OSPE’s Task Forces advocate for public policy that is guided by data and evidence. As problem solvers, engineers provide important insights on system planning, efficiencies and integration, total lifecycle costing and scenario analysis for sound policy making when it comes to combating climate change and mitigating its impact.

History

The idea of a new highway connecting the 404 and the 400 dates back to at least 1979. The initial Environmental Assessment (EA) for this highway was conducted in 1997 and approved in 2002, during the Harris administration. However, the McGuinty government decided not to move forward with this project in the mid-2000s. The Premier back then promised to tackle gridlock with a transit-oriented approach, pledging only “the removal of highway bottlenecks”, and that meant not moving forward with the Bradford Bypass.

The project was dormant until 2017, when Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals put it back on the table. However, this project didn’t move forward until 2020, when the Progressive Conservatives started pursuing plans to forgo the new environmental assessment. In April and May 2021, a virtual public consultation regarding design alternatives for refinements to the route identified in the EA took place. Proposed changes included realigning the Holland River crossing to the south to reduce the impact on the river, new designs for interchanges to meet contemporary Ministry of Transportation standards, and other minor realignments and changes. Following analysis of this consultation, a subsequent public consultation in Fall 2022 will present the preferred design for the route. The finalised design of the route and EA is currently anticipated to be completed in early 2023.

Concerns with this project

Outdated Environmental Assessment

This project is still being considered using an environmental assessment that was conducted by the province 24 years ago (1997).

These studies are out of date. The EA process and requirements have changed drastically throughout this time frame, and so has the environment. The province should ensure a new robust EA is conducted. Construction should not start without a proper EA in place.

At the same time, the old assessment did not consider whether the province could help congestion issues by increasing public transit or improving existing roads. Engineers believe the government must study other options, so as to ensure Ontarian’s tax dollars are used wisely.

Environmental Concerns with the previous EA

The previous assessment predicted severe pollution issues, which could impact fish habitat, Lake Simcoe, and private wells in the area. It also indicated that levels of benzene, a carcinogen emitted by car exhaust, could be higher than what is currently allowed, but did not include an assessment of possible health impacts.

That assessment also did not account for the climate crisis or research showing that building new roads does not reduce congestion, arguably it increases the amount of cars on the road, a concept called induced demand. The government has also failed to release any studies or evidence showing that the bypass would save driver time.

There is also a lack of data and evidence regarding the benefits and disadvantages of this highway compared to other infrastructure projects. Why not invest in more public transit instead?

An estimated cost of this highway has also not been released.

Opposition

Ontario NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw has said that it is “irresponsible” for the government to push forward with this new highway without releasing basic information and that “There needs to be a new set of eyes put on these megaprojects”.

Liberal environment critic Lucille Collard also said the project needs another look. “Building and expanding highways is important, but only where and when they make sense,” she said in a statement. She also mentioned that “we would only consider proceeding with the Bradford Bypass if all of the environmental assessment conditions were appropriately addressed.”

OSPE’s Position

Infrastructure projects should not be politicized. They should be based on evidence and reported to the public and stakeholders transparently.

The Ontario Government should develop and use standard, evidence-based project evaluation tools. The quality of project evaluation reports for each major infrastructure project should be independently reviewed for merit. This should be accompanied by providing transparent reports available to the public outlining all project approvals and rejections, along with detailed summaries of decisions.

To ensure that the province is investing in proper infrastructure projects, the government needs to be transparent and answer all questions and concerns regarding each project. The Bradford Bypass is no exception.

Governments should invest in long-term sustainable infrastructure projects.

OSPE welcomes needed investment in infrastructure that is “shovel-worthy”, and able to provide long term benefits to Ontarians. it is imperative that new funding allocations provide a sustainable benefit for diverse, future generations by ensuring a targeted focus on building sustainability. OSPE believes that prioritized investment in sustainable infrastructure will help alleviate the economic burden the province is facing, while decreasing unemployment rates in several critical sectors of the economy.

To build long-term sustainable infrastructure, it is important that the government consult appropriately with stakeholders and the communities affected. These consultations must be transparent and information should be shared throughout the entire process.

OSPE also wants to stress the need for all levels of government to retain expert engineering input on transportation infrastructure to guarantee short and long-term planning that best serves the needs of the Greater Toronto Area for the upcoming years.

Make use of a Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) framework

Whether or not this project moves forward, it is essential that all public infrastructure investments be transparent and return the greatest possible value for money. By adopting Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) as its best practice for the selection of consultants, the government can realize the greatest possible value for investment in its infrastructure projects. QBS is the smartest tool to ensure post-COVID-19 economic recovery throughout Ontario.

Listen to OSPE’s latest Engineering the Future podcast episode to hear more about Qualifications Based Selection.

Visit OSPE’s YouTube channel to watch the latest deep-dive discussion on QBS with engineers from across Canada and the US.

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