In a much anticipated decision released Friday, the Ministry of Transportation said in a news release it has “accepted an expert advisory panel’s recommendation that a proposed highway in the GTA West corridor is not the best way to address changing transportation needs.”
The panel, which was made up of three industry experts, found that the environmental assessment that had been started on the highway, also dubbed 413, “did not demonstrate that a new corridor that crosses protected lands was the only reasonable option to address future transportation needs in the study area.”
Residents and environmentalists has been concerned that the proposed route for the GTA West highway, which was to connect Vaughan at Highway 400 to Halton Region at the 407, would have cut through large swaths of the protected Greenbelt forest.
That’s why the advisory panel suggested a broader transportation plan, looking at the needs of the entire region would be more effective, rather than simply building new highways in a piecemeal way.
“The panel recommends the development of a single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” according to the GTA West Corridor Advisory Panel report. “The plan would also provide the opportunity to consider changing social and economic conditions, as well as technological changes such as connected and self-driving vehicles.”
Tim Gray, the executive director for Environmental Defence, called the decision a “signature moment.”
“It marks a real change in direction,” said Gray, who had presented to the panel on behalf of Environmental Defence.
“I think essentially the panel found that the highway was not going to decrease transit times in any significant way,” he said. “They just found that you don’t need to do this.”
Since 2013, the province had conducted a number of environmental assessments and public consultations to identify a preferred route for the four- to six-lane highway linking Vaughan and Milton.
But in December 2015, the province suddenly suspended work on the project, saying it was “essential to have a forward-looking plan when it comes to relieving congestion” and set up a panel to conduct an internal review.
Opposition parties had lambasted the province for suspending the EA, and claimed that the work thus far had cost taxpayers over $14-million.
Affected regional governments of York and Peel, had also been pushing for the completion of the assessment — concerned that further growth in their regions could not be supported without a highway to get people and goods from here to there.
But the advisory panel’s findings suggested otherwise.
In the report, they found that the creation of smaller highway corridor, expansions and extensions of existing highways, transit system improvements, better implementation of congestion pricing, and truck priority on Hwy 407 could offer the same results as building another new highway — or had not been sufficiently considered as alternate options.
The panel also suggested any future transportation plan be aligned with provincial growth plans for better co-ordination and consistency.
The cancellation of the project doesn’t mean the lands where the GTA West highway was to run will now be open for development.
The province plans to conduct a study over the next year to ensure “lands are protected so that new infrastructure, such as transit or utilities, can be developed to support and accommodate future growth and development.”