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York Region task force aims to tackle transportation challenges
May 28, 2015
By Lisa Queen

Six months after municipal politicians got an earful from voters fed up with the impact of traffic congestion on their lives, York Region has launched a transportation task force.

“Transportation has been the biggest issue (facing the region),” regional chairperson Wayne Emmerson said after the task force’s inaugural meeting Thursday afternoon.

“We know we have an issue. We have got to start to deal with it, because that’s the biggest issue that came to light when they (municipal politicians) went door to door (during last fall’s municipal election campaign).”

The task force will address “big picture” transportation and public transit concerns over the next two years or so, Emmerson said.

“We’ve got to plan for the future, that’s the biggest thing right now. But there are things we can do now to help the residents,” he said.

“It’s an issue we have to deal with soon rather than later.”

The task force’s ambitious mandate makes it one of the biggest committees in the region’s history, Vaughan Councillor Mario Ferri said.

But the task force needs to come up with tangible results, not just wish lists, Vaughan Councillor Gino Rosati said.

“Hopefully, we can come up with significant, meaningful and implementable solutions,” he said, adding congestion is worse today than ever despite years of efforts to rectify the problems.

“How can we do it faster? How can we do it cheaper?”

The region is investing more in transportation infrastructure than ever before, Emmerson said.

Over the next five years, the region is spending $809 million on roads.

It is also investing $1.9 billion on transit in addition to funding from the federal and provincial governments.

For example, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced a 10-year $130-billion infrastructure program, including almost $50 billion for transit, highways and bridges in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, in his spring budget last month.

Almost $12 billion will be spent in 2015-2016 for infrastructure and public transit projects.

As bad as congestion in York is today, it has the potential to get worse as the region’s population grows to 1.8 million in 2041, up from today’s 1.1 million residents.

Meanwhile, employment forecasts call for the number of jobs in the region to grow from 550,000 today to 900,000 in 2041.

The region’s approach to transportation needs must continue to progress through initiatives such as bus rapid transit ways, the region’s transportation services commissioner Daniel Kostopolous said.

“We’re in the process of an evolution and, as we evolve, we know we’re not going to get where we need to go just by continuing to do the same things that we’re doing today given the level of growth,” he said.

“Definitely, we need to go farther than that.”

Only 4 per cent of trips made within the region are made on public transit, Brian Hollingworth, director of consultant IBI Group, said.

Looking at future travel patterns, trips made within the region are by far the fastest growing trend compared to other trips, such as York to Toronto or to other regions, he said.

About 81 per cent of trips made during the morning rush hour are made by car, as are 96 per cent of trips of less than a five-kilometre distance, Hollingworth said.

Transportation options must address the needs of changing demographics, including the growing number of seniors and immigrants and the increase in the number of young people who aren’t getting their driver’s licences, he said.