Communities affected by two controversial highway projects are locked in a fierce debate after the Ford government committed to building them in its fall economic statement, tabled on Thursday.
“This is not how we want our tax dollars spent,” said Jenni LeForestier, a Caledon resident of 11 years who has long argued Highway 413 would affect dozens of wetlands and damage watersheds.
The proposed highway is a 59-kilometre stretch that would run through Vaughan, Caledon, Brampton and Halton Hills, connecting Highway 400 with the Highway 401/407 interchange.
“It’s alarming … that our government is talking about 1950s sprawl planning during a climate emergency,” said Leforestier. She says residents are organizing protests over the next few weeks.
But Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and his government say their priority heading into next year’s provincial election, is to ease gridlock and congestion.
The fall economic statement states the province is spending an additional $1.6 billion over the next six years on bridge rehabilitation and highway expansion projects, including the Bradford Bypass and the 413, but it has not given a specific cost for the two highways.
“The evidence is clear … it’s time to get the 413 built,” Bethlenfalvy said, adding that the province’s plans for expansion do not include tolls.
“Imagine what that’s going to be like in five years when there’s a million more people in the GTA,” Bethenfalvy told reporters Thursday, evoking a picture of traffic chaos on the region’s roads if the highways aren’t built.
Congestion and gridlock
Alleviating that gridlock is also the priority of the mayor of East Gwillimbury, Virginia Hackson, who saiy she’s “thrilled” the government committed to the highways in its economic statement.
She says her community would benefit from the Bradford Bypass, a proposed 16.2-kilometre thoroughfare between Highway 400 and Highway 404.
“Our roads that were built for neighbourhoods are now filled with transport trucks,” she said. “We want to grow, we need to grow and we can’t grow without this road.”
But critics argue the highways won’t have an effect on congestion, referring to a phenomenon urban planners call induced demand — in which building more highways and widening old ones merely leads to more people getting behind the wheel, eventually clogging the new routes with even more traffic.
“You build it and they will come. It puts more cars on the road,” said Keith Brooks, programs director with Environmental Defence.
Brooks is worried about the environmental impact of the projects, pointing out the last environmental assessment for the Bradford Bypass was completed in 1997.