By Doug Hallett
City hall officials have raised the spectre of a 10-lane Highway 401 feeding into a six-lane Hanlon Expressway in urging council to push for a new highway connection from the Greater Toronto Area to the north end of the Hanlon.
“It would be virtually impossible to widen the Hanlon Expressway without causing significant social impacts in Guelph and further dividing the city down the middle,” says a new staff report.
The “only practical alternative to the widening of the Hanlon Expressway in the future” is a new highway from the east that connects to the Hanlon near a new Highway 7 to Kitchener, the report says.
Construction of the new four-lane Highway 7 – a divided highway with two lanes in each direction, with potential for future widening – is to begin by 2015, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario recently announced.
In 2007, the MTO raised the possibility of a new highway between the north end of the Hanlon Expressway and Highway 400 north of Toronto when it began its “GTA West Corridor Environmental Assessment Study.”
However, the MTO ended up proposing that the new GTA West highway shouldn’t go as far west as Guelph, but instead should connect with Highway 401 at the Highway 407 interchange in Milton.
The MTO’s study proposes the widening of Highway 401 from the current six lanes (three each way) to 10 lanes between the south end of the Hanlon and Regional Road 25 in Halton Region, to the east of Guelph. This “medium-term” highway improvement is proposed to happen in five to 15 years, along with widening of some other 400-series highways, the city staff report says. The MTO is proposing to build the new GTA West highway more than 15 years from now.
The report, which goes to a city council committee today (Feb. 19), says council should urge the MTO to continue looking at a new highway from the east that connects to the north end of the Hanlon. It also says council should urge the MTO to build a new north-south connection to Highway 401 east of Guelph.
“The future widening of the Hanlon Expressway could be avoided by developing a new corridor linking the future Hwy 7 to the GTA West (highway) and by providing a new north-south connection to Hwy 401 east of Guelph, as was identified in earlier MTO plans,” it says.
“This would also be consistent with Guelph’s longstanding request to MTO for the northerly extension of the Hanlon Expressway on a new alignment to divert long-distance, external traffic from Woodlawn Road, which is the city’s main commercial/industrial thoroughfare.”
The new north-south connection to Highway 401 east of Guelph that city staff are suggesting might be built near the border of Wellington County and Halton Region, says Rajan Philips, the city’s manager of transportation and development engineering.
As it stands now, the MTO’s GTA West study “is not going to work” for Guelph, Philips said in an interview Thursday. Waterloo Region has also expressed concerns about the MTO’s plan, he said.
The city isn’t asking the MTO to abandon its plan to have a new GTA West highway connect with Highway 401 at Milton, Philips said. However, city officials want the MTO to continue planning for a new highway in the 30-kilometre “gap” between Guelph and the Niagara Escarpment that would connect to the new GTA West highway. The MTO is concerned about encroaching on the escarpment by developing a brand new highway through it. That’s one of the main reasons the MTO’s current plan calls for a GTA West highway to end at Milton, says the staff report, which was written by Philips. But the potential for a new highway west of the escarpment to Guelph needs to be explored, the report says.
“A totally new corridor through the escarpment could be avoided by using existing roads in the escarpment area as connecting links between the easterly and westerly sections of the GTA West” highway, it says.
The point of his report is to let council know that unless the MTO makes plans for local highway changes aside from a 10-lane Highway 401 and a new Highway 7 to Kitchener, “the Hanlon will become overused in the future and that may precipitate a widening of the Hanlon,” Philips told the Trib.
“There is no easy solution, but we cannot put everything on the Hanlon and ignore the area between the Hanlon and the escarpment,” he said.
The implications of not extending a GTA West highway west of the escarpment go beyond the effect on the Hanlon, his report says.
Another implication is that “inter-regional and Canada-U.S. truck traffic will continue to use municipal roads and exacerbate impacts on residential communities,” it says.
“There is no feasible rail alternative for moving goods in this area” west of the escarpment and north of the existing Highway 7, it says.
“Without a new corridor, the long-distance truck traffic will continue to use municipal roads in Wellington County and the City of Guelph. These roads are located in residential and urban commercial areas, and continuing long-distance truck traffic will exacerbate negative community and social impacts that are already experienced in these areas,” it says.