Hamilton, Waterloo and Niagara have endorsed a charter that among other things calls for a better balance between transit and highway needs in the area west of the GTA. The document which was approved by Hamilton’s General Issues Committee last week and has already been endorsed by Waterloo and Niagara Regions says in part, “Given the major fiscal and infrastructure challenges facing this area, local governments have decided it’s time to look past municipal boundaries and have an open and frank discussion on what needs to be done.” The charter calls for all three levels of government to develop a forum to address transportation infrastructure needs, Called the “Western Golden Horseshoe Transportation and Trade Network, collation cites as its main goal, “to see an integrated multi-modal transportation network established that:
- Addresses existing highway capacity issues Maximizes the potential of air, rail and marine goods movement modes,
- Provides efficient connections to hubs, employment lands, and local and international markets,
- Incorporates an inter-regional multi-modal transit network that uses road and rail based modes and connects our communities.
One of the triggering events for the formation of the coalition was the provincial government’s decision to scrap the Niagara to GTA corridor project which had been going through a fruitless public consultation process for more than a decade. Instead the government proposed widening existing highways in the area. Several Ministry of Transportation studies had warned that even with the widening of existing highways, there would still be a need for an alternate route to the US markets within the next decade and a half. The coalition recommends that the Niagara to GTA route be extended to connect highways 403 and 401, linking to the proposed GTA West corridor–effectively forming a ring around Metro Toronto. This would avoid the highly controversial original MTO proposal of having the NGTA cross the Niagara Escarpment into Halton Region—a proposal that was strongly condemned in the region. [gview file=”http://bayobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/ngta-MAP-golden-horseshoe.pdf”] The charter calls for the “reform of approval processes for transportation infrastructure,”—a reference the the current Environmental Assessment process which critics say has proven to be prone to being hijacked by minority interests, and is seen to focus excessively on justification of projects rather than mitigation of actual environmental impacts. The document attempts to address the disconnect between the three levels of government when it comes to infrastructure spending noting, “the issues, challenges The issues, challenges and opportunities facing the Western Golden Horseshoe are not singularly municipal, regional, provincial, or federal. They are shared across all levels of government, the private sector, and transcend local political boundaries. If various government factions continue to work separately on these matters when cooperation and collaboration is required this will continue to create confusion and waste.” In his State of the City address Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina sounded a similar note saying, “a new dynamic needs to be created in how municipalities relate to senior governments… We have to re-balance this tripartite relationship because (the senior governments’) comfort zone involves the top-down approach which in far too many cases has not worked.”