By Doug Hallett
Guelph’s mayor and the president of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce are at loggerheads over whether the city needs a future highway linking the north end of the Hanlon Expressway with Greater Toronto Area communities north of Highway 401.
In the wake of city council’s narrow defeat of a motion supporting such a highway last week, chamber president Lloyd Longfield said the council decision goes against positions taken by Waterloo Regional council, three area chambers of commerce and Guelph city hall’s own staff.
“Council’s decision was taken in isolation. It wasn’t looking at the whole plan for the region, and we are looking at the whole plan for the region,” Longfield said, referring to a newly finalized brief on the issue prepared jointly by the Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge chambers of commerce.
The three chambers will take the issue to an Ontario Chamber of Commerce general meeting in May, where they will try to get it included on a short list of priority projects for the provincial chamber to push for at the provincial government level, he said.
The three chambers want the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario to reopen its “GTA West” study. This study concluded that a future new GTA West highway should connect with Highway 401 in Milton and shouldn’t continue on to Guelph. At issue for the Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge chambers is productivity in this important economic region, Longfield said in an interview Thursday.
“The biggest issue is productivity. Their workforce and our workforce are all stuck in traffic on Highway 401. Productivity of our region is hurt by the 401 being gridlocked part of the time,” Longfield said.
For example, “there is no predictable way” of getting car parts to assembly plants “aside from using the back roads,” he said.
“Canadian productivity is one of our biggest concerns right now,” Longfield said.
“We haven’t been keeping up with other countries . . . and a big part of that is highways.”
At its Feb. 25 meeting, city council voted 7-5 in favour of a clause that included recognition of the need to expand 400-series highways in the GTA. The transportation ministry’s GTA West study envisions Highway 401 being expanded from its current six lanes (three in each direction) to 10 lanes east of the Hanlon Expressway.
However, a subsequent clause asking the MTO to continue looking at extending the proposed GTA West highway to Guelph was defeated by city council on a 6-6 tie vote. This clause also spoke of the need for a new north-south connection to Highway 401 east of Guelph.
Longfield told council on Feb. 25 that the GTA West study should be reopened now that the province has said it will start building a new Highway 7 to Kitchener in 2015.
Longfield said Thursday he’s concerned about the impact council’s stance could have with the provincial government. Opposition of past Guelph councils held up construction of the new Highway 7 to Kitchener for many years, he said.
Although council’s decision has added “a level of risk that wouldn’t be there” if it had voted differently, the three area chambers will continue to push jointly for the GTA West study to be reopened, he said.
“We have a very strong argument to go forward with as a business community, and we will continue to go forward with it.”
Farbridge said Thursday that she voted against expansion and construction of new highways in both council votes – the 7-5 and the 6-6 votes.
“Two weeks ago, I attended a conference on sustainable city building,” she said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
“Sustainable transportation planning was one of the topics discussed in several sessions,” she said. “One presenter in particular showed us pictures of traffic congestion in cities around the world and asked when would we stop thinking that just adding more highways would solve our congestion problems,” Farbridge said in the email.
She said balancing new supply with managing demand needs to apply with highways, as it does with the water system.
“In my opinion, we lack an articulate and pragmatic sustainable transportation vision in Southern Ontario-Greater Toronto Area,” Farbridge said in the email. “I felt that much of what we were presented (at the Feb. 25 council meeting) represented too much of the status quo,” she