Ontario Premier Doug Ford has committed to fully funding a controversial Greater Toronto Area highway project that’s been in the planning stages for decades, though it hasn’t yet been fully costed by his Progressive Conservative government.
There isn’t a set date for construction to begin on the 16-kilometre Bradford Bypass, as design and other planning work continues.
But Ford was in Bradford, Ont., on Monday in front of a backdrop of heavy construction machinery and supportive local officials to tout his government’s pledged financial support for the project he said will save time on daily commutes and cut back on congestion.
“This project is a critical part of our plan that’s building Ontario,” he said. “This new bypass (will) help get people where they need to go much faster and we also know it will help to get goods to market faster.”
The proposed four-lane highway would connect existing Toronto-area highways in Simcoe County and York Region.
The government earmarked $2.6 billion in its fall economic statement for highways and bridges this year, including committing to advance the Bradford Bypass, but hasn’t provided an exact figure for spending on the highway.
Concerns have been raised about the environmental impact, as the last environmental assessments on the project were completed in the 1990s. Opposition politicians have also taken issue in the legislature with plans for the route that appear to benefit Ford allies.
Ford on Monday blamed project delays on past governments, who he alleged have sided with unnamed “ideological activists” against highway construction.
“Communities in this area have been asking governments for years and decades for a solution to the worsening traffic congestion, but their voices fell on deaf ears of previous governments who turned their backs on commuters,” Ford said.
Ford and Mulroney also said Monday that the highway will protect the environment because commuters will spend less time running their cars if they can get to destinations faster.
But that was countered by Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who said in a statement that the highway will contribute to pollution and impact sensitive wetlands and waterways. He called on Ford to cancel the plans.
“We need to crush climate pollution, not create more,” Schreiner said.
The Opposition New Democrats questioned the claims that the highway will save time on commutes.
Finance critic Catherine Fife accused Ford of prioritizing the highway to benefit his allies and said the government should be more transparent about its planning process.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said municipal support for the highway is worth listening to while new environmental assessments are done to address concerns that they are out of step with present-day standards.
The government said new environmental and design studies are underway and expected to wrap up late next year, after June’s provincial election.