At a news conference Thursday, Premier Doug Ford made it clear that the government believes there are far more people who favor highway expansion in the Greater Golden Horseshoe than who oppose it and as a result he will campaign on the issue in the June election. The stated purpose of the news conference was to release the document: Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. But the document was essentially a catalogue of previously announced projects, including the controversial Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. But the highway expansion plans do not come at the expense of public transit. The document points out the significant investment the government has already made in transit, as well as what is in the hopper, including continuing significant expansion of GO Rail and bus service, LRT projects and expansion of the Toronto subway system. Further out towards 2051, transit expansion will include new east-west line between Burlington and Oshawa, north of Toronto, that connects existing and proposed GO Rail, subway, and LRT lines outside of Union Station, and serve major employment centres and growth areas.
The difference between the Ford government approach and the McGuinty-Wynne approach is that Ford recognizes that transit cannot completely replace the need for highway expansion, it can only mitigate it. During the 15 years of the McGuinty-Wynne era, during much of which this writer was executive director of the Southern Ontario Gateway Council—a goods movement transportation lobby; there seemed to be a belief that expanded transit would solve all gridlock problems. They even spent money exploring crazy ideas such as having goods delivered on GO trains—anything to avoid actually confronting road congestion. Those staff at MTO who actually understood highway congestion and its forecast growth, found it career-limiting to advocate for any expansion of the road system. The delivery of goods by truck was treated as a nuisance to be eliminated instead of the lifeblood of our economy. The so called-Highway 413 which has some people so upset, is an example of some of the planning that went on at MTO, almost clandestinely, despite the negative ideological climate that descended on the ministry. Highway 413, in its original Guise of the GTA-West Corridor, had been on the books since the 1990s.
The basic facts of commuting and goods movement have not changed. People will take public transit– indeed prefer to use public transit–when it is convenient and fits into their lifestyle; they will drive when it is not. Moving goods is another matter. Goods movement requires trucks and trucks require roads. Any goods that can be shipped by rail or by marine are mostly already being shipped that way because of the significant cost advantage. There may be some opportunity to increase marine and rail’s share of goods movement, but it will be at the margins and even then, goods shipped by these methods require trucks to cover the final miles. We are adding millions more people in the next 30 years to the Greater Golden Horseshoe and they all require goods, plus they have to get to work.
Whether you like Ford or not, his government has come up with the first balanced approach to the province’s transportation challenges in memory. If it seems to be coming on too quickly, it is only because of a decade and a half of inaction.