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Highway 413 was always a bad idea. Now we know it’s even worse

‘The Ford government has found a way to make its proposal to build a 400-series highway across the northern part of the GTA even worse.’
April 19, 2022

It’s hard to believe the Ford government could find a way to make its proposal to build a 400-series highway across the northern part of the GTA, destroying farmland and parts of the Greenbelt along the way, any worse than it already is.

But it seems it’s managed to do exactly that.

Internal Ministry of Transportation documents reveal that at one of the most environmentally sensitive sections of the proposed Highway 413, the province ignored the advice of its own consultants.

It chose a route that avoids a planned subdivision development near Kleinburg. Instead, it chose a path that would cause what the consultants described as “maximum incursion” into the Greenbelt and destroy hundreds of hectares of conservation land.

The documents were obtained by a Vaughan councillor, Marilyn Iafrate, through an Access to Information request, and reported by the Star’s Noor Javed on Monday.

It’s been clear from the start that the Highway 413 project, 59 kilometres of pavement through York, Peel and Halton regions, is a destructive boondoggle.

It was shelved in 2018 by the previous Liberal government, but it’s been revived by the Ford government as part of an electoral appeal to suburban voters.

It would cost at least $6 billion, maybe $10 billion, and it isn’t needed. An expert advisory panel told the previous government there are better ways to deal with traffic congestion, such as putting the parallel Highway 407 to better use.

But this government is going ahead anyway in the face of opposition from the general public and councillors representing people in the very areas it’s supposed to help -- including those in Mississauga, Halton, Vaughan, Orangeville and elsewhere.

The latest revelations in the MOT documents are just another example of why this wasteful project is a very bad idea.

The documents show that consultants brought in to work on the GTA West Transportation Corridor came up with a “technically preferred route” near Kirby and Huntingdon Rds. that would be best for both environmental and cost reasons.

That route, however, would go through a proposed subdivision near Kleinburg. Other possible routes, the consultants said, would “maximize incursions into the Greenbelt” and “undermine the credibility of the entire route selection process and GTA West Corridor.”

The government ignored those warnings and chose one of those other routes anyway -- one that the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority concluded in a separate report will have the worst impact on the local conservation reserve, the Humber River, and species at risk.

How are these decisions made? It’s all rather opaque, which is a big part of the problem. The office of Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney told the Star it was all part of a “routine technical process” and the minister had no involvement.

But it’s far from clear why the recommendations of the consultants and conservation authority were brushed aside. The fact that the new route avoids a large development site raises obvious questions of whose interests were being served. Similar questions arose last year when a Torstar-National Observer investigation laid out a web of ties between the government and major developers along the GTA West route.

In the real world, Highway 413 is still a very doubtful proposition. Ottawa has promised its own robust environmental assessment before it goes ahead and local councils are opposed, as are all opposition parties at Queen’s Park.

But the Ford government has made it a major wedge issue for the June 2 election. And now there’s one more reason to say no.