Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Highway Through Where?

This is the first I've heard of this, so I don't know if autoroutes are being routed or if it's just a political ploy.

Jim Flaherty, the federal finance minister, is announcing from Dublin that the federal government is going to back a highway that crosses the GTA north of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Exactly where is he talking about? The area between Aurora and Newmarket is quickly filling up with homes. Passing north of Newmarket seems like the most likely location, but that area too has been developed extensively in the past decade. Any further north would lead through the Holland Marsh, some of the richest farmland around. Then there's Lake Simcoe.

Maybe this seems like a good idea when you're standing on the other side of the world, but if you actually visit Newmarket you'd see that it has near gridlock every afternoon and weekend. A new highway will only add to the mess by encouraging low density development in the north-east of the GTA. (West of Newmarket is King Township which has managed to remain surprisingly rural and a popular cycling destination). Instead of empty asphalt, it will bring more car traffic.

The Star is putting a positive spin on the announcement by saying that a "transitway", ie bus lanes, will be included in the highway. I guess these bus lanes will be filled with an expanded Greyhound service between Newmarket and Oshawa, and Newmarket and Guelph. Right now, the Newmarket train service, still recovering from cuts during the provincial conservative days, only runs into the city in the morning and out in the evening. Reports I've heard say that the four trains are full, and parking lots are overflowing.

On top of it all, I'm not quite sold on this dedicated bus lane on the highway. It seems like an attempt to help a bus "keep up with" the cars. The real advantages of public transit come when the bus runs often and stops in places where people want to walk to, not where they can wait for another bus on the side of a highway. This means giving priority to buses in areas of higher density.

So I have to wonder about the motivation behind this announcement. Jim Flaherty represents Whitby and Oshawa, where people are annoyed that it takes them a long time to get to the start of the 407, and when they get there, they have to pay for it. This announcement simply feeds the illusive dream of an open road that bypasses Toronto traffic and costs nothing.

Darren J 6/13/2006 12:24:00 p.m.


Unfortunately, most highway announcements say "blah blah blah transit" and then it gets conveniently forgotten.

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