Chapter 2: Panel’s Consultation

2.1 Mandate

The Advisory Panel was appointed to assist MTO with its review of the work undertaken since 2007 on the GTAW EA, and to examine the EA’s alignment with current government policy and emerging technologies. The Panel’s terms of reference asked for a strategic assessment of the GTAW EA, including alternatives to meeting future transportation demand, as well as recommendations for next steps and advice on a path forward. In the original terms of reference, the Panel was not given any opportunities for additional public input. Instead, the Panel was to rely on the existing record of public consultation regarding the GTAW EA (see Appendix 1 for the full terms of reference). However, at the Minister’s request, the Panel conducted its own consultations in the fall of 2016 to help inform its review of the GTAW EA (see Appendix A2-1 for the bulletin).

2.2 Process

The Panel held public consultations from October 7 to November 11, 2016. Key stakeholders were invited to share their views and concerns ‒ including municipalities, the development industry, passenger and freight transportation providers, the agricultural sector, conservation authorities, environmental non-governmental organizations, and Indigenous communities. Submissions were also solicited on the GTAW web site and via e-mail. All told, the Panel received 69 written submissions from individuals, municipalities and organizations.

The stakeholders who provided comments represented diverse views and highlighted for the Panel the range of impacts of the proposed corridor. Some agreement existed surrounding, for example, the need for certainty and for better integration and alignment between provincial policy and project-level transportation planning. However, opinions diverged on the best path forward. The Panel carefully considered the feedback received during its analysis, and all comments helped inform the final recommendations. This chapter provides an overview of key themes across the spectrum of respondents.

2.3 Summary of themes

2.3.1 Integrated Planning

Considerable agreement existed among those responding around the need for local and provincial planning efforts to be better coordinated. A number of stakeholders, and municipalities in particular, expressed concern that the GTAW corridor was being considered in isolation, and recommended a “whole system” approach instead. They suggested that planning for the proposed corridor should be tied to long-range provincial plans, which are able to look at the entire transportation network. While many felt that the proposed corridor would support the economic development goals of the Growth Plan (2006), others held that the new corridor either did not appear to align with current provincial policy directions, including the Climate Change Action Plan (2016), or that at best, it represented an incomplete interpretation of a larger vision. As well, it was generally felt that the corridor should be planned in a coordinated fashion for multiple uses, and include such features as a transitway and HOV lanes, as well as provision for future utilities.

2.3.2 Certainty

Another common thread through most of the submissions was the need for greater certainty. With the final route alignment of the proposed new highway yet to be determined and a broad corridor remaining protected from development, some municipalities have expressed concern with the ongoing uncertainty in the EA process. Employment lands have also been affected, leading to concerns over lost opportunities and competitiveness in attracting investment. The Panel heard that continued uncertainty is also having an impact on farmers and landowners, who may be unable to make decisions about using their property. In many cases, a paramount concern of those who commented was the need to finish the process so that plans can move ahead again.

2.3.3 Congestion and Growth

Stakeholders often voiced support for the corridor in connection with concerns over congestion, which many expected to worsen as the region continues to grow. Municipalities in particular stated that congestion is a key concern in their respective jurisdictions. Indeed, most municipalities considered a new corridor to be an effective solution to accommodating and, in some cases, stimulating growth. York and Peel Regions noted that the corridor would have significant economic benefits in the City of Vaughan and the Town of Caledon in particular, by helping to spur and service employment development.

Some municipalities, as well as other stakeholders, identified Hwy 401 as a bottleneck for which no alternative exists, and noted that congestion on this route can lead to a spillover of trucks on regional roads. The efficient movement of goods by road was emphasized as a crucial factor in making the region prosperous and attractive to investment. For some of those consulted, the proposed corridor was deemed to be essential in this regard, since it could offer an opportunity for measures to give priority to the movement of goods. Others felt that local initiatives and improvements to the existing network would adequately address this need, through measures such as expansions to Hwy 401, the Halton Peel Boundary Area Transportation Study (HPBATS) or better use of Hwy 407.

2.3.4 Environment

A number of stakeholders expressed concern over the impact of the proposed corridor on natural heritage features in the Greenbelt. Several of these respondents noted that, particularly when a major transportation facility crosses headwaters and forest tracts, the effects would likely be difficult or impossible to mitigate. While animal migration and ecosystem health were highlighted in this regard, the effect on the passage of people was also noted, as trail systems could also be disrupted. In addition, respondents pointed out that prime agricultural land would be lost to the new highway, and that the carbon (i.e., greenhouse gas emission) cost of the highway would be substantial. Some groups questioned the project’s alignment with the province’s Climate Change Action Plan (2016), given the high level of greenhouse gas emissions anticipated from vehicle travel. Finally, the GTAW EA was criticized for its treatment of the Greenbelt Plan (2005) simply as a part of the weighted criteria, rather than as a hard constraint.

2.3.5 Emerging Technologies

When asked about how emerging technologies may change travel demand in the GTA, many respondents saw an opportunity for a new corridor to incorporate innovative approaches and new kinds of infrastructure. Some felt that these technologies may lessen the need for a highway by lowering travel demand and making travel more efficient. While organizations and municipalities were beginning to investigate the potential impacts of emerging technologies and to include these considerations in their planning, these efforts were, for the most part, in the very early stages.

Overall, the Panel’s public consultation process added an important dimension to its assessment of the work done to date on the GTAW EA, and helped to better inform its final recommendations on a way forward.

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