In the latest sign that the Federal Government is looking seriously at what had been for years a purely provincial highway proposal, a Federal Standing Committee has issued a report recommending Ottawa “should consider the creation of a
Mid-Peninsula Transportation Corridor.” Justifying the recommendation, the report noted the Niagara Region’s and the City of Hamilton’s strategic location within a one-day drive of major Canadian and U.S. cities, and the region’s current provincial designation as an Economic Gateway Centre & Zone, and federal recognition as a Foreign Trade Zone—factors which could then qualify the region for funding under the Federal Government’s $10 Billion National Trade Corridor’s Fund. This represents a major new development in the tortured history of this highway, which is proposed to run from the US Border through Niagara and Hamilton above the escarpment and eventually hooking up with the 400 series Highways in the GTA.

Since its inception nearly 20 years ago by the Harris Government, the Niagara to GTA Trade Corridor, also known as the Mid-Pen Highway, was envisioned as a strictly provincial initiative. The government set up special offices to study the Mid Pen as well as the GTA West corridor (which would have provided a new route parallel to the 401, connecting Peel and Halton regions). When the McGuinty Government took office, the studies continued, but the pace of progress on the projects gradually ground to a halt. In 2010 the government announced that both projects would be essentially mothballed, despite a plethora of reports suggesting the QEW between the GTA and the US border would be gridlocked by 2030 unless a second route was available. Mid-Pen advocates felt the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals had adopted an Ideological aversion to highways irrespective of evidence supporting their justification.

More recently, before his departure to Toronto, Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray had suggested the project might be revived, if Hamilton and Niagara were to join forces and develop the projects as a municipal iniative, similar to the Red Hill-Linc Highways, taking the political heat for the iniative, performing some of the preliminary design and environmental assessment work and then applying to the province for funding support.

As part of its study, the Federal Committee travelled to Hamilton and the Niagara Region in September 2018 to meet with transportation corridor users and other stakeholders to develop an understanding of the effectiveness of Canada’s trade corridors and identify possible improvements. The Committee also held 13 meetings, heard from 87 witnesses and received 9 briefs. One of those witnesses was Debbie Zimmerman, former Niagara Regional Chairman, who told the committee about  the constant congestion and lack of redundancy on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) highway, which is the primary route linking Niagara and the Greater Toronto Area and the main entrance between Ontario and the State of New York. Ms. Zimmerman pointed out that the movement of goods along this trade corridor is expected to increase by 3% to 6% per year, and that tourism is increasing steadily in the Niagara region as well, so it is important to find “an alternative for truck traffic,” she said.

The  Mid-Pen project has developed unusual tri-level support. Niagara centre Liberal MP Vance Badawey, a member of the Parliamentary committee, and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek Liberal MP Bob Bratina have been quietly lobbying Transport Minister Marc Garneau on the project. Said Bratina, ”It’s the ultimate of public administration when three levels of government co-operate on a project to positively impact communities from the Niagara River to Lake Huron.  This can bring benefit to over 3 million people, many of them in economically depressed areas.” At the provincial level, Flamborough-Glanbrook Progressive Conservative MPP Donna Skelly has raised the issue with Transport Minister Jeff Yurek; and at the municipal level Ward Nine councillor Brad Clark, who, as former Provincial Transport Minister promoted the highway project; has suggested a tri-level meeting between himself, Skelly , MP Bratina and Minister Yurek. Skelly is open to such a meeting. “I think it is necessary to fully explore a transportation project that could play a key role in optimising economic development in Hamilton and Southern Ontario,” she said. This is the time to bring all the key players together.”

A possible next step might be an updated cost-benefit analysis of the Mid Pen. In the report the federal committee recommended that Transport Canada require an analysis to be conducted before federal infrastructure funding is allocated for proposed trade corridor projects. Any analysis should use a multiple account evaluation framework that includes financial, regional economic development, trade, environmental and regional quality of life benefits as targeted objectives.

Ron Foxcroft, whose Fluke Transport company is approaching a century in business, and uses the QEW border route daily, can’t wait to see some action. “We have been talking about building the Mid Pen Highway for decades.   It is time to stop talking and seize the opportunity to capitalize on this initiative which would create an enormous economic benefit for every citizen in the Province of Ontario.” Foxcroft also serves as Board Chair for Hamilton International Airport, which would lie directly on the proposed Mid-Pen route. Previous Hamilton councils have endorsed the Mid_Pen in part because of the economic potential it would bring to the Airport Employment Growth District .

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