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EDITORIAL: Ford rolls dice with 413 (Dec. 2021)

December 17th, 2021 · No Comments

The currently ruling Progressive Conservative party of Ontario is looking ahead six months – and strategizing at how to win an election despite a long line of mishaps behind them. They’ll be looking to win support in the 905, and they’ll use wedge issues to get it. A 59 kilometre highway we don’t need is one of the big ones, and the party is already painting Premier Doug Ford as the only leader “that will say yes to growth in the GTA.”

Highway 413 is a proposed four to six lane highway that would connect highway 400 in Vaughan in the east to the Mississauga-Brampton border where highway 407 and highway 401 intersect. The Ford government has not included any cost estimates for the highway in their fall economic outlook, but the previous Liberal government pegged the price at more than $6 billion before abandoning the idea.

According to an expert panel brought together by the Liberal government, Hwy. 413 would reduce travel times by no more than 30 seconds. Ford’s promise of a 30-minute time savings in commute time is an implausible claim given that the route is roughly the same distance as what’s available on existing highways, so achieving that time savings would require that vehicles travel at 180 km/h on the 413.

Ford likes to say that anyone opposed to his plan is just “a downtown activist from Toronto, who thinks people should hop on their bicycle.” While it may be true that downtown activists may want to hear initiatives more aligned with 21st century realities, Ford’s spectacle falls apart when we learn that municipal councils in Mississauga, Vaughan, Halton Hills, and Halton Region are on record opposing the highway proposal. All have called for a federal environmental assessment before it gets the green light. The noted “downtown activist,” Bonnie Crombie, mayor of Mississauga, said “the proposed highway will have a disastrous impact on the environment, encourage residential sprawl, and increase our dependence on cars.”

The 905 mayors get it. They live with the reality of urban sprawl. They appreciate the phenomenon of induced demand, which has been known to researchers since the 1920s. An example is the Katy Freeway in Houston Texas which was expanded in 2011 to make a 26-lane road which did indeed make commute times quicker. However, by 2014 commute times were taking even longer than in 2011. Expanding the highway incentivized car travel and caused new subdivisions to be built. The Ford government has refused to discuss the impact of induced demand if their plan comes to fruition.

The aforementioned environmental assessment will need to deal with the myriad of ecological impacts on watersheds and wildlife if the highway is built. Ford is planning to pave over 400 acres of the Greenbelt, plus 2,000 acres of farmland, 6 km of forest, and cut a wide swath through the Nashville Conservation Area. According to a letter filed by Ecojustice with the federal government, species at risk which could meet their end due to the proposal include migratory birds such as the Chimney Swift, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Loggerhead Shrike, Wood Thrush and Grasshopper Sparrow. No terrestrial wildlife surveys have been prepared for the location and no mitigation measures have been proposed for the protection of these species. It is also anticipated that the Redside Dace, an already endangered species of fish, could be extirpated from its natural habitat should the project proceed.

Ford’s sudden love for a new highway is not well conceived, it is a desperate attempt to stay in power by dangling the shiny object of a quick commute to 905 residents whose votes he needs. But highway 413 is a bad idea for all of us.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion