The Government of Ontario recently released its Plan to Build Transportation and Transit Infrastructure called Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, the Honourable Caroline Mulroney describes this plan as one that “seeks to address gridlock and provide more capacity for people and goods to move through the region”.
The plan includes a Vision for Mobility in 2051 that sets out a 30-year vision of a transportation system that aims to provides safe, efficient and convenient options for people and businesses. The 2051 vision includes infrastructure, service improvements and policies organized under four inter-related themes:
- Fighting gridlock and improving road performance
- Getting people moving on a connected transit system
- Supporting a more sustainable and resilient region
- Efficiently moving goods
The plan also includes over 100 immediate and near-term actions that the province and its partners are taking, and will take, to make substantial progress towards the 2051 Vision for Mobility. These actions are organized under seven goals:
- Actions to Fight Gridlock, including building new and faster route alternatives such as Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.
- Actions to Improve Transit Connectivity, including historic investments in transit such as the all-new Ontario Line, multiple subway extensions, regional Light Rail Transit (LRT) projects, and work to provide and progressively electrify two-way, all-day 15-minute service across the GO Transit rail network.
- Actions to Give Users More Choice, including working with municipalities across the region to bring bus services to areas that are unserved or underserved by transit through the Ontario Community Transportation Grant Program.
- Actions to Keep Goods Moving, including expanding truck parking locations and improving the sustainability and efficiency of the freight sector by encouraging use of off-peak delivery.
- Actions for a Safe and Inclusive Transportation System, including establishing a new funding program to support Indigenous communities and organizations in pursuing transportation related projects.
- Actions to be Future Ready, including investing in electric vehicle production and exploring opportunities to make it easier to get to and from transit stations using automated vehicle technologies.
- Actions to address Connections Beyond the GGH, including expanding GO train service to the City of London and supporting feasibility work to re-introduce rail service to northeastern Ontario.
By setting out a long-term vision and concrete actions, the plan aims to:
- improve the choices we have to get around – getting people and goods moving where they need to be faster for decades to come
- reduce gridlock – adding more time to people’s days and saving taxpayers’ money otherwise lost idling in traffic
- reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resiliency to extreme weather events such as flooding
- provide a safe, inclusive and interconnected transportation system – delivering a better user experience no matter which mode you choose
The plan acknowledges that
“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ontario and increased delays caused by gridlock in urban areas only intensify the problem. Reducing emissions from the province’s transportation sector and building a low-carbon transportation system are critical to meeting the province’s GHG commitment to reducing Ontario’s emissions by 30% by 2030 (based on 2005 levels)”.
However, despite this acknowledgement, the Province is setting forward a plan that focuses on building new highways, like Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. Such infrastructure projects, would lead to increased GHG emissions.
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.
Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass go against the goal of reducing GHG emissions in Ontario.
Highway 413 lacks an up-to-date Environmental Assessment and a thoughtful stakeholder consultation. Its construction would lead to loss of thousands of hectares of prime agricultural lands, including about 1000 hectares in the Greenbelt in Vaughan. Adding highway capacity could induce more vehicular travel, and potentially further undermine complete community policy goals and provincial commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Further, experts also found that Highway 413 could negatively impact natural areas such as rivers, valley lands, wetlands, conservation areas and forested areas, including approximately 53 river and stream crossings.
- The GTA-West Transportation (GTAW) Corridor, otherwise known as Highway 413, was under an Environmental Assessment (EA) study by Ontario since 2007.
- The highway portion of the EA was cancelled by the previous provincial government in spring 2018, based on a report by an expert Advisory Panel that found that the highway would deliver few benefits, and could not be justified.
- The cost of the transportation corridor was estimated in 2012 to be $4.8 Billion. This cost will undoubtedly be more now due to inflation, as well as increased construction and land acquisition costs. The bill will be paid by taxpayers.
- An expert panel estimated in 2018 that the average saving to people’s drive-times would only be between 30-60 seconds.
The government should consult appropriately with stakeholders and the communities affected by the project. These consultations must be transparent and information should be shared throughout the entire process. A recent Environmental Assessment (EA) needs to be undertaken to determine whether the project should proceed to subsequent stages of design, permitting and construction. The Government should address all these concerns before moving forward with it.
The Bradford Bypass, is not exempt of controversy.
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.
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.”
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.
The Province should also look at further investments in public transportation.
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.
Let us know what you think of the Government’s Transportation Plan in the comments section.