After putting an end in December to an environmental assessment of the GTA West — a highway that would connect Vaughan and Milton by slicing through parts of the Greenbelt — the Ministry of Transportation has promised an update from a new advisory panel this spring.
An April 20 order-in-council established an unnamed, four-person "Advisory Panel for the Greater Toronto Area West Highway Corridor project," which is being set up to "assist the government in conducting a strategic assessment of future transportation demand and other transportation infrastructure needs for passenger and goods movement" in the region.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said on Monday the internal working group would be taking the entire scope of the project into consideration.
“We’ve placed a pause on the environmental assessment because this is a process that began a number of years ago — roughly a decade or longer ago — and we wanted to take a step back and take a deep breath and review the project and make sure that we are moving in the right direction,” Del Duca said.
That includes environmental concerns that Highway 413 would harm farmland, forests and the Credit and Humber Rivers along the Greenbelt, according to Environmental Defence. The environmental group has recommended the province scrap the proposed highway altogether, and instead invest in public transit.
"We don't think a highway through expensive environmental and agricultural lands in the province is a smart idea right now, and it actually isn't a smart idea period," said Erin Shapero, spokesperson for Environmental Defence. "We're optimistic the government is going to consider the needs for comprehensive transit planning across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. We think it's a good time to take a step back and look at this from a bigger picture perspective."
Furthermore, the Liberal government has greenhouse gas reduction targets it wants to hit, including a 15-per-cent cut below 1990 levels of emissions by 2020. Ontario’s transportation sector also accounted for 35 per cent of the province’s total GHG emissions in 2013, which the government will have to address.
Development is restricted in the 800,000-hectare parcel of land that covers the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, but booming development in York and Peel regions have prompted some city councillors in the 905 to push for the highway.
In March, York Region’s committee of the whole recommended MTO resume the environmental assessment, saying the GTA West “is an important transportation corridor for the GTA” that would “alleviate existing congestion on major sections of Highways 400 and 401 and provide freeway capacity for a significant amount of growth in York, Peel and Halton regions."
Both the Building Industry and Land Development (BILD) association and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association have voiced support for the highway. In a letter to Peel Regional Council, BILD’s vice-president of policy and government relations, Paula Tenuta, said the GTA West would support population, employment and development growth.
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