April 22, 2021 (3-4 Minute Read)
Today is Earth Day. And many people around the world are discussing public policy related to reducing carbon emissions. A highway proposal in Ontario, called Highway 413, adds to this discussion.
On one end of the spectrum, proponents suggest an improved transportation corridor (which includes public transit), leads to fewer cars, gridlocks, and carbon emissions. On the other end of the spectrum, opponents adamantly disagree, suggesting new highways leads to loss of farmland and green space, and a new highway subsequently involves more cars and pollution.
The Bramptonist is following both sides of the debate. First some context.
The Highway Location
According to gta-west.com, the proposed transportation corridor is expected to include a 4 to 6 lane, 59-kilometre 400-series highway with connections to Highways 400, 427, 410, 401, and 407 ETR. The highway would have 11 interchanges at municipal roads and include electric charging stations, service centres, carpool lots and truck inspection stations.
The transitway would have a separate corridor running alongside the highway dedicated exclusively for public transit, such as buses or light rail transit.
The preferred route can be seen below and is now part of Environmental Assessment studies.
What’s Happening Now?
The GTA West project is following Ontario’s process for an Individual Environmental Assessment under the provincial Environmental Assessment Act.
A decision about whether the project will also be designated under the Federal Impact Assessment Act is expected in spring 2021. Several municipal Councils along the route have supported the federal involvement. The project’s timeline can be seen here.
Questions to the Brampton Board of Trade Todd Letts
Bramptonist: Would the transportation corridor assist in mitigating traffic gridlock faced every day by Bramptonians, which is expected to increase as the population increases?
Todd Letts: Thanks for asking the question. Not many media ask or report about the lives of every day Bramptonians when it comes to this issue.
Please understand, I’m not an expert in their lives. I can only answer from the perspective of employers – our members. Brampton Board of Trade members employ more than 45,000. To put that in perspective, Board of Trade members provide more than 1 in every 3 jobs in Brampton.
Employers are concerned about the impact of traffic gridlock on the daily lives of their employees. Many describe traffic gridlock has having a negative impact in their lives. Its reflected in their daily stress levels and their pocket books.
My key response to your question is that the issue is choice. Many Bramptonians have no other choice but to drive.
152,000 Bramptonians wake up each morning and must drive outside of the city for work. And when traffic gridlock occurs, as it does on a regular basis – pre-COVID, again, Bramptonians don’t have a choice. They are forced to adjust their lives in less than pleasant ways – late for work/miss soccer games etc. etc. Cumulatively, day-by-day, this impacts the city’s livability AND weighs heavily on a family’s decision-making. This concerns employers who are trying to attract talent and retain talent. A highway, not unlike our advocacy for Two-way, All-Day GO train service, provides employers with a broader talent pool to draw from.
As we know, Brampton is suburban. That’s a fact. Brampton Board of Trade is proud of that. Brampton Board of Trade advocates strongly for investments in both transit and transportation. We believe that Brampton can be one of the world’s best suburbs. At this time in Brampton’s history, however, transit and transportation options do not yet provide the choice that citizens demand.
But that’s not the end of the story, your question or my response. Look ahead 10 years….
Bramptonians welcome 14,000 newcomers each year. Across the GTA, over the next 10 years, that equates to more than a million newcomers. According to the Ministry, that’s about 1.5 million more cars on our roads.
In addition to the negative impact on livability, congestion on GTA highways is estimated to cost more than $11 Billion annually in productivity. That translates into higher costs at the grocery store for every-day Bramptonians AND puts our city at a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract new investment and jobs.
A new highway adds choice for everyday Bramptonians. Bramptonians want choice. Brampton becomes more livable with more choice. When gridlock, volume slow-downs, accidents occur, a new highway provides Bramptonians with more choice – a choice to avoid the bottlenecks. The highway provides a choice to avoid the negative impacts of living in a suburb that has too few jobs, transportation or transit options.
Lastly – Bramptonians are aware that according to Region of Peel, cancellation of the highway would put pressure on development charges, capital reserves and ultimately property taxes to address the infrastructure requirements to address this growth.
Bramptonist: Given the advocacy of the business community (including the Brampton Board of Trade), what impact would the new transportation corridor have on Brampton in terms of jobs and economic prosperity?
Todd Letts: I have described, in my response to question 1, some of the impact to employers. Specifically, the GTA West Corridor proposed highway is viewed as having a positive impact on job-creation, talent attraction/retention and economic prosperity. In fact, the Ministry’s Transportation Development Study outlined many benefits to the highway including:
- A $1 billion annual boost to provincial GDP.
- Large employers value sites for their offices with proximity to a highway because they are better able to draw on a regional talent pool.
- Tech communities in York region would be more connected to those in Peel, Halton and other regions along the innovation corridor.
- Employees of major employers and the general public would value an alternative highway choice that would mitigate congestion on highway 401
It is important for your readers to know that the businesses of the Brampton Board of Trade are strong advocates for infrastructure investment – including both transit and transportation. For example, our multi-year advocacy for investment in Two-way, All-day GO train service – more trains and more frequent trains for all of Brampton continues to show results.
Bramptonist: What are your thoughts of some Brampton Councillors voting against “any” transportation corridor at Peel Region?
Todd Letts: Let’s look specifically at Heritage Heights. Council’s flip-flopping and ultimate decision to endorse a flawed concept plan means that development there will be on hold most likely for more than a decade. It didn’t have to be that way. For a community where residents want jobs and Councillors promise jobs, jobs, jobs, one would think that endorsing a realistic plan would take priority.
At Brampton Council’s October 2019 Council Workshop on establishing a Community Improvement Plan, it asked a reputable economic development consultant, what does it take to attract more investment? Highway access was one of the top reasons. Council supported the highway in 2019 and then reversed its decision in 2020 by endorsing a concept plan at Heritage Heights that replaces it with a bottleneck boulevard.
In 2020, Council endorsed a concept plan that it believes will create more jobs. However, Council didn’t look closely at the parameters given to consultants by staff. What would the job count be if an option had been provided with the boulevard on Heritage Road for example. And how soon could those jobs be created if another viable option was presented? Businesses are disappointed that Council didn’t ask more questions to staff or demand more realistic options from them. Council accepted, at face-value ,what the anti-highway consultants were recommending. Brampton businesses expect more from their Council. Council should expect more from their staff.
Wouldn’t it have better informed Council’s decision if they had asked staff to provide an option with the bottleneck boulevard located two blocks west on Heritage Road, rather than endorsing a plan that replaces the highway at Heritage heights? If they had, Council would have had an option to narrow the boulevard to be more age-friendly and pedestrian-friendly, develop a beautiful town centre, and construction could begin now – with development charge revenue – not dependent on provincial decision or funding. Staff, not only did not provide an attractive, viable option for Council (they offered a comparatively-unattractive one from 2014 that did not even envision a GO station at Heritage Road) – and Council didn’t ask for any better options. Because of the inadequacy of Council’s decision-making, those jobs forecast for Heritage Heights are just “paper” jobs. Development at Heritage Heights will be held up for decades.
Some politicians and media are quick to dismiss the need for a highway. They point to another consulting Expert Panel report that followed the Phase 1 Environmental Assessment. Members of the Brampton Board of Trade dug deeper. Businesses ask, ‘who does one believe – a political panel hired by politicians or an Environmental Assessment carried out by qualified transportation engineers?’ There is such discrepancy, businesses are happy that further phases of the EA are close to completion. The time savings metric reported in the media, for example, is highly-diluted and is not the most relevant to every day Bramptonians.
To understand the true time-savings value of the highway to business and to every day Bramptonians, transportation engineers will tell you to look specifically at how the highway will be used. Look specifically at the afternoon peak time savings and its impact on regional roads.
To circle back to your first question, the highway in fact, will greatly enhance the livability for Bramptonians. For example, the first phase of the environmental assessment (EA) has a different calculation and interpretation of time savings. Put in context of afternoon drive time, and specifically for commuters and commercial vehicles is, in fact, thousands of hours.
(Note: The Bramptonist will seek the opinions of other proponents and opponents to the proposed transportation corridor as the approval process continues).