Chapter 7: Conclusions and Recommendations

7.0 The Panel’s Mandate

In December 2015, MTO temporarily suspended work on the GTAW EA in order to review the work undertaken to date and its alignment with emerging transportation issues, technological trends and current government policies, including the government’s commitments to addressing climate change. To assist the Ministry with the review, the Minister of Transportation appointed an Advisory Panel to conduct a strategic assessment of the GTAW project. The Panel was asked to report on the results of the strategic assessment, make recommendations on next steps and provide advice on a path forward for the EA process.

The Panel’s terms of reference set out several specific components of the strategic assessment:

  • Assess the extent to which emerging technologies, trends and policy objectives may impact future travel demand for goods and passenger movement in the GTA West corridor (2031 time horizon).
  • Examine the potential alternative approaches to meeting future transportation demand and infrastructure needs in the corridor using specific emerging technologies and service solutions. For example, potentially enhancing/expanding existing infrastructure (both provincial and lower-tier) to address any localized network pressures, such as goods movement.
  • Assess the extent to which existing completed technical studies can inform the future infrastructure needs of partner ministries in the corridor (e.g., rail, hydro and other purposes).
  • Assess the need for protecting the GTA West corridor for other transportation needs.
  • Assess options for the existing EA process, as informed by the analyses above.

Later, the Panel was also asked to conduct public consultations, and it reached out to obtain the views of municipalities, the development industry, the passenger and freight transportation sector, the agricultural sector, conservation authorities, environmental non-governmental organizations and Indigenous communities.

7.1 GTAW EA Strategic Assessment

According to the provincial forecasts in the Growth Plan (2006), population and total employment in the municipalities of York, Peel, Halton, Wellington and Guelph are expected to more than double between 2001 and 2041. This growth is expected to lead to substantial increases in travel both through and within the EA study area. The GTAW EA was initiated to address how the transportation system in the northwest GGH would address this future growth.

The GTAW EA got under way in 2008, at a point in which Ontario’s policy-led planning environment had recently undergone significant change. In 2004, for example, the provincial government had strengthened the requirements for planning by making changes to the Planning Act. These legislative changes required that decisions affecting planning matters, including those made by a Minister of the Crown or a ministry, must be consistent with policy statements. Previously, such decisions were only required to have “regard for” provincial policy statements.

In 2006, a second new legislated obligation was added with respect to planning decisions, requiring them to “conform with” provincial plans. In the space of two years, the Province released a new PPS (2005) and two major plans, the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan (2006). These documents laid out the new framework for policy-led planning in Ontario.

In cases of conflict, provincial plans for specific geographical areas were to prevail over the provincial policy statement. In addition, the Places to Grow Act (2005) established that the highest priority must be given to the policy that provides "more protection to the natural environment or human health." All three of these planning documents make reference to the environmental assessment process, and make it clear that while infrastructure projects may require approvals under the Environmental Assessment Act, they are also subject to these provincial policies and plans.

These changes in provincial policy broadened the province’s goals for transportation planning beyond its traditional focus on improving services. From this point on, transportation investment decisions would be expected to advance a broader range of provincial policy objectives, including social, economic and environmental goals such as intensification and compact growth, building complete communities, improving goods movement, and protecting significant cultural heritage, natural features and agricultural lands. More recently, Ontario has also passed new legislation and mandated a province-wide action plan with targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

As noted above, significant changes in the policy and planning environment, along with broader goals for transportation planning and infrastructure investment, occurred around the same time as the GTAW EA began. The EA’s terms of reference, approved by the Minister of the Environment in 2008, state that the EA process was initiated to “examine long-term transportation problems and opportunities and consider alternative solutions to provide better linkages between urban growth centres in the GTA West Corridor Preliminary Study Area. The focus will be on developing an integrated multi-modal transportation system that offers choices for the efficient movement of people and goods” (p.11).

This final chapter of the Panel’s report presents the results of our strategic assessment of the GTAW EA. We begin by summarizing our findings from Chapter 3, to highlight relevant changes in the economy, society at large and technology that have happened since the EA began, along with trends that are forecast for the future and are likely to affect travel demand. This is followed by a summary of our findings from Chapter 4, with a presentation of the results of our assessment of alternative approaches that could both meet future travel demand and also be consistent with provincial policy. The third part of this chapter highlights findings from Chapters 5 and 6 regarding the GTAW EA process and provincial policy, including our recommended option for the future of this EA.

Building on the results of our strategic assessment, we also recommend a path forward that includes an approach to transportation planning that better enables the consideration of future uncertainty and adherence with broad provincial policy goals. The chapter concludes with our review of the GTAW EA in relation to additional aspects of our mandate: the use of existing EA studies for other provincial ministries and the need to protect the current GTAW corridor in the future.

  1. Future travel demand in the GTAW corridor

  2. Ontario finds itself at the beginning of a potentially significant transformation in transportation due to a number of factors, including economic and social changes, demographic change, policy changes and technological change. Amid much that remains uncertain, one thing was clear to the Panel: the province’s new and evolving policy landscape and societal context herald a very different future than the one that was imagined 10 years ago at the outset of the GTAW EA. These changes have far-reaching implications for travel and for transportation planning.

    The worldwide and local economies are changing, including the structure of the economy and global freight distribution. Employment in the goods production sector is declining in Ontario, and while there has been some recovery from a low in 2008, goods production GDP has not yet returned to pre-recession levels (CANSIM). The province’s overall economic and population growth have also declined in recent years and are forecast to continue at their current, slower rate into the future (Ministry of Finance, 2017). Within the GTAW study area, goods movement near Pearson International Airport and north Peel Region systems serve the GGH, and are increasingly dispersing their activities.

    Demographics in Ontario are also shifting. The biggest change is that people over the age of 65 will represent one-quarter of Ontario residents by the year 2040, leading to changes in commuting and to individuals continuing to work later in their lives. The Millennials, born after the Baby Boomers between 1984 and 2004, are also displaying different travel patterns than their parents, although it is not clear whether these differences will continue over time.

    New types of travel are emerging and changing both passenger and goods travel. There is significant growth in e-commerce and the sharing economy, including the adoption of ride- and car-sharing services, such as Uber. These trends point to reduced need for ownership of a personal automobile.

    Vehicle technology is also rapidly changing, leading to “connected” vehicles (connected both to each other and to the internet) and self-driving vehicles. These technologies have the potential to significantly transform road travel by making it safer, more convenient and more efficient. At the same time, easier travel may lead to more vehicular trips, and offset some or all of the increased efficiency of traffic flow.

    Recommendations

    Scenario Planning

    The Panel recommends that, in light of future uncertainty, scenario-based methods for testing the robustness of decisions be further integrated into decision-making processes. Sources of uncertainty range from growth forecasts to alternative policy actions and travel demand model assumptions, among others.

    Considering uncertainty through scenario planning when engaging in long-term transportation planning has been supported in new policy. On May 18, 2017, the province released the updated Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2017). The Panel found that one policy of particular relevance to its work is the direction in the Growth Plan (2017) that planning for new or expanded infrastructure “will occur in an integrated manner, including evaluation of long-range scenario-based land use planning ...” (3.2.1.2). This new guidance adds support to the approach used by the Panel in Chapter 4 of exploring possible future scenarios, such as alternative land uses and self-driving vehicles, as a strategy for considering the robustness of the GTAW EA transportation benefits.

    In the Panel’s view, the numerous external changes discussed above can best be addressed by planning at a regional scale, by examining alternate future scenarios to address transportation and broader policy objectives, and by testing plans that are based on such scenarios for robustness.

    Self-driving Vehicles

    There is significant uncertainty concerning self-driving vehicles. The Panel’s research suggested that the adoption of self-driving vehicles may lead to significant changes in transportation accessibility, transportation safety, transportation behavior and the capacity of transportation systems. Self-driving cars are likely to influence all elements of the transportation system, including automobile ownership, transit service delivery, parking, vehicle design and traffic flow. Transportation system planners and operators will need to revise their assumptions and models for planning, designing and operating transportation systems. Policy makers need to work diligently on the issues associated with this technological innovation, such as data security, travel behaviour, infrastructure capacity, and integrating planning and design for connected and self-driving vehicles.

    As society is now beginning to embrace self-driving vehicles, the Panel recommends that Ontario take a more active role in facilitating, if not advancing, the transition period. This will require broad policy and program interventions to accommodate the coexistence of both traditional and self-driving vehicles. The Panel strongly recommends that the government ensure that MTO has a centre of expertise to address this transition in relation to broader goals established for multi-modal transportation systems. This centre of expertise should be mandated to work across policy and operational functions, and with other agencies and levels of government and the private sector. The centre should also be tasked with developing new methodologies to ensure robust scenario-testing with respect to self-driving vehicles.

  3. Potential Alternative Approaches

  4. The Panel was asked to conduct a strategic assessment and examine potential alternative approaches to meeting future transportation demand and infrastructure needs in the GTAW study area, using specific emerging technologies and service solutions. Alternative approaches identified by the Panel extend both to:

    1. alternative actions that can meet travel needs; and
    2. alternative processes for identifying how transportation planning can guide the identification of preferred investments and actions.

    These aspects of our assessment are discussed below.

    2.1. Alternatives to the GTAW Recommended Actions

    The Panel was asked to examine specific alternative scenarios that are capable of providing travel benefits that are comparable to the building of a new highway.

    First, the Panel concluded that highway expansions and extensions that are completed, planned or under way will provide travel time benefits that are approximately equal to those anticipated from the EA’s recommended new highway corridor.xxxiii They will also provide improved capacity for goods movement and improved linkages to existing and planned intermodal facilities. These actions are well aligned with provincial policy to improve capacity for goods movement and improve linkages to existing and planned intermodal facilities. Moreover, insofar that they represent expansions of existing infrastructure, they are aligned with provincial policy to optimize existing infrastructure before building new facilities.

    Second, consistent with provincial policy that requires the optimization of existing infrastructure, the Panel found that congestion pricing as a demand management tool on the existing highway system appears capable of delivering travel time benefits that are equal to or greater than the proposed new GTAW corridor. Using current MTO modelling, the Panel’s forecasts predict travel time savings associated with tolling either Hwy 401 or all GGH multi-lane highways that are, respectively, from three times greater to more than 10 times greater than those of the new GTAW corridor.

    The Panel recognizes that these two tolling scenarios will have significant equity implications. More intermediate scenarios, with fewer equity implications, include: a) tolling one lane on all GGH multi-lane highways, or b) tolling only Hwy 401’s express lanes. These scenarios would also provide travel time savings, approximately equal to those anticipated from the new GTAW corridor. The Growth Plan (2006) definition of transportation demand management includes strategies to use driver-pay measures to modify travel behaviour. Tolling was also included in the definition of demand management in the GTAW EA’s terms of reference, and was an alternative considered early on in the environmental assessment process. The Panel was unable to determine why this alternative was not further evaluated in the EA.

    Third, providing truck priority on Hwy 407 through additional highway capacity or subsidy (e.g., trucks would pay no toll) would deliver travel time benefits that are similar to the new GTAW corridor. Such opportunities, however, should be viewed cautiously, given that the Panel did not examine the physical limitations in the right-of-way available in the Hwy 407 corridor, or barriers to expanding Hwy 407 beyond the 10-lane limit specified in the current 407 ETR legislation and agreement. Since the Growth Plan (2006) provides policy direction that highway investments should facilitate efficient goods movement, this alternative aligns with that policy objective.

    Fourth, alternate land use and growth scenarios appear to impact transportation system performance, including travel time savings. For example, the Panel modeled a scenario with slower growth and more compact land use patterns than those forecast in the Growth Plan (2006), and the scenario resulted in shorter travel times. These findings suggest that how land uses evolve and are shaped by planning functions can have significant impact on the performance of the transportation system as a whole. As noted earlier, forecasts prepared in 2017 by the Ministry of Finance suggest slower population and economic growth in Ontario to 2040. The Panel’s results do not separate the independent effects of slower growth from compact land uses in analyses, but the Panel believes that these findings merit more attention.

    The Panel observes that, although these scenarios are consistent with provincial policy (e.g., optimizing the use of existing infrastructure before developing new infrastructure), the scenarios also raise a number of other policy issues that would require further investigation.

    In addition, the government is currently making major investments in improved transit services throughout the GGH. While many of these projects were identified in the EA, their contribution to addressing future travel demand was not independently assessed. The Panel explored the potential of regional express rail (RER), high speed rail (HSR) and inter-regional transit to meet study area travel demand. The Panel found that the planned RER system would appear to deliver material travel benefits, although these benefits would be distributed both in the study area and more broadly across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

    The Panel concludes that there is value in further exploring the potential of these alternative actions.

    2.2. Alternative Planning Approaches

    The Panel observed that many aspects of the GTAW EA suggest an effort to fill a gap between provincial planning policy (Growth Plan, PPS, Greenbelt Plan) and an individual project environmental assessment being undertaken under the EA Act. At times, the GTAW EA appeared to be attempting to create both a transportation plan for the study area and an individual project EA.

    In other jurisdictions, project EAs are often “tiered” with higher-order policy and planning EAs. In the Panel’s view, if an individual project EA were established within the context of a single long-term multi-modal transportation plan, its role would be clearer, its scope narrower and its process shorter. Based on the experience of other jurisdictions, long-term multi-modal transportation planning also presents an opportunity for agencies to better evaluate uncertainty and test the robustness of plans in advancing a broad range of policy goals.

    In Ontario, different elements of transportation planning are currently occurring in different organizations, without a comprehensive single approach to prioritize from among a range of potential investments across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This is important because different actions must compete for the limited public funds available. Moreover, some investments may work towards certain policy objectives but not others (perhaps even undermining them in the process).

    In the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the planning landscape is complex. For example, Metrolinx’s efforts generally focus on public transit and travel demand management planning and programming. The Ministry of Transportation currently conducts highway planning and also leads some transit and demand management planning initiatives. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs leads the preparation of key planning policy such as the Growth Plan, in which corridor transportation policy is set. The Growth Plan (2006) identifies broad social objectives (e.g., complete communities) and simultaneously prioritizes specific transportation projects to be assessed. But how or whether projects identified in the Growth Plan schedules can advance specific provincial objectives (including greenhouse gas emission reductions, complete communities, compact urban growth, etc.) can best be assessed by exploring them within the context of a regional transportation plan that assesses alternatives empirically.

    Other jurisdictions have begun to integrate transportation planning, both across modes and across the project life cycle, including planning, public consultation, financing, construction, system management, maintenance, etc. For example, in the UK, the government has embraced the recommendations of an expert panel and is reforming its approach to transportation policy and planning. Its new approaches are designed to be evidence-based, unbiased with respect to modes and driven by the understanding that the transportation system can be used to deliver broader societal goals, rather than strictly to deliver transportation-related benefits such as lower road congestion (Jones, 2010). Similarly, in the US, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) represent a comprehensive regional approach to planning transportation infrastructure, programs and projects for areas with a population of 50,000 or more. These regional planning functions were required by the federal government as a means of publicly planning how transportation funds can best be used to advance a vision.

    Currently, there are a number of ongoing transportation planning initiatives in Ontario that require a high degree of integration. Both the Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx are engaged in long-term planning in the GTA/GGH region, with MTO working on the Greater Golden Horseshoe Multi-modal Transportation Plan and Metrolinx reviewing the Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Provincial policies serve as the starting point for these initiatives.

    In this context, MTO’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Multi-modal Transportation Plan and Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation Plan present opportunities to articulate new visions for the region’s transportation systems and to provide guidance on how to operationalize each of these visions. However, if transit, roads and other planning initiatives are not fully integrated in the same regional plan, the Panel believes that there is no means of demonstrating to the public either how compromises can be made or how important policy objectives can be achieved.

    These many initiatives, both within and outside Ontario, lead the Panel to recommend that the Ministry of Transportation lead the development of a single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

    The Panel believes that a single transportation plan for the GGH has the potential to explicitly consider uncertainty, while systematically evaluating the robustness of recommendations with respect to different possible future scenarios. The plan would also provide an opportunity to examine changing social and economic conditions, as well as technological changes such as connected and self-driving vehicles. The relationship between the recommended single transportation plan and the provincial policy framework is depicted in Figure 7-1, below.

    provincial policy framework

    Figure 7-1: Provincial Policy Framework

    The diagram presents a conceptualization prepared by the GTA West Advisory Panel of how the provincial policy framework could apply to infrastructure planning, if the panel’s recommended single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe were in place. The framework is presented in three tiers. The first tier comprises of land use policies which are binding on the province (such as the Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Provincial Policy Statement) in addition to environmental policies such as Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, and the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act. Furthermore, a single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe would also be included in the first tier, but be subject to the acts noted above. The second tier consists of ministry and agency-specific transportation policies such as Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation Plan, and the Province’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan, in addition to Strategic Transportation Directions for Central and Southwest Ontario. The third tier is comprised of relevant policies from other planning entities, including land-use policies such as official plans applicable to municipalities, and transportation policies from other governments, such as the federal government’s Straight Ahead – A Vision for Transportation in Canada.



    The Panel recommends that the single transportation plan be aligned with provincial policies and that it meet the legal standards of conformity and consistency with these policies. We also recommend that the plan set priorities for alternative projects across modes and demand management actions. The plan should establish performance measures and be regularly reviewed and updated. Ideally, ongoing transportation planning efforts and plans (GGH Multi-modal Plan, RTP) will also meet these important opportunities and standards.

    Additional considerations for the single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe are discussed in Appendix 7.

  5. Recommendations for the GTAW EA Process

  6. The Panel was asked to assess options for the existing EA process and has the following recommendations:

    The Panel recommends that the GTAW EA be stopped, and that the Ministry of Transportation lead the development of a single regional transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

    This single plan (discussed above and in Appendix 7) would provide a means of implementing legislated provincial policy and priorities across an integrated transportation system, to expedite future environmental assessments and ensure that they are consistent with provincial policy.

    To support its recommendation, the Panel summarizes the results of its strategic assessment of the EA. As documented in earlier chapters, the key findings of the Panel’s review are as follows:

    1. In 2008, when the GTAW EA began, the Ontario policy context required that the EA be consistent with and conform with (rather than simply have regard to) provincial policy. This represented a significant change from the policy context of the decade preceding the EA. The Panel finds that the GTAW Recommended Actions did not meet this test.
    2. This change in the policy context established policies that prioritized optimization over new infrastructure development, guided the assessment of alternatives for infrastructure planning, protected valuable lands, prioritized new highway construction for goods movement, and encouraged more transit use and shorter commuting trips in support of "complete communities". In cases of conflict between provincial policies, the Places to Grow Act (2005) gave priority to the direction that provides "more protection to the natural environment or human health."

    3. The EA did not demonstrate that a new corridor that crosses protected lands was the only reasonable option to address future transportation needs.
    4. In order to proceed with a new corridor that crosses provincially protected lands, including key natural heritage and hydrologic features of the Greenbelt and prime agricultural land, the EA was required to demonstrate first, that there was need for a corridor, and second, that there was no reasonable alternative. The Panel found that the GTAW EA assessment process eliminated a number of alternatives without a clear rationale. Many of these alternatives did not involve new crossing of provincially protected lands. Moreover, several of these alternative actions related to infrastructure optimization, and could have represented a reasonable alternative to a new corridor.

    5. Planned highway extensions and expansions will deliver benefits equivalent to the proposed new highway, but were not independently assessed as alternatives.
    6. Many extensions and expansions of existing highways recommended in the GTAW EA are already approved, and in some cases are either built or under way. The Panel found that these actions will deliver transportation benefits that are approximately equal to the proposed new highway corridor. Yet these benefits were not independently assessed in the EA as part of or as an alternative to the new corridor. These actions are well aligned with provincial policy to improve capacity for goods movement and improve linkages to existing and planned intermodal facilities. Moreover, insofar that they represent expansions of existing infrastructure, they are aligned with provincial policy to optimize existing infrastructure before building new facilities.

    7. The Panel found that other alternative actions are capable of providing benefits that are equivalent to or greater than the new highway corridor recommended in Stage 1 of the EA.
    8. The alternative actions explored by the Panel are aligned with required provincial policy (Growth Plan, Greenbelt Plan, and Provincial Policy Statement) to optimize existing infrastructure before developing new infrastructure and to avoid and minimize impacts to provincially protected lands. These alternatives include: travel demand management through congestion pricing, priority truck lanes on Hwy 407, and growth management (slower growth and more compact land use). Moreover, these actions could be implemented in concert with GTAW EA’s recommended expansions and extensions to further increase transportation benefits. Several of these alternatives advance other provincial policies related to compact and complete communities, more transit use and shorter auto trips. The Panel recognizes that some of these benefits are distributed broadly in the GGH and that these scenarios raise a number of other policy issues that will need further investigation.

    9. The Panel has identified several overarching provincial policies that are better addressed through system-wide actions rather than through individual project EAs.
    10. The Panel observed that at times the GTAW EA attempted to create an area-wide multi-modal transportation plan to fill the gap between provincial planning policy (Growth Plan, PPS, Greenbelt Plan) and an individual project environmental assessment. The Panel also recognized that there are several provincial policies (e.g., Climate Change Action Plan, support for complete communities and enhanced goods movement) that are difficult to address in a project EA, but would be better addressed at a regional scale. The Panel recommends the creation of a single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

      Based on the Panel’s review of the existing EA, summarized in the findings set out above, the Panel recommends that the present GTAW EA be stopped. The Panel also recommends against revising this EA.

      In the Panel’s view, the problems with the EA’s approach to policy, need and alternatives are fundamental and would require revisiting the first steps of the EA process. In addition, the terms of reference, which are required to guide every EA, set out this EA’s purpose as providing “better linkages between urban growth centres”. That purpose is not provincial policy, and it is also at odds with provincial policy to reduce the need for long distance commuting and encourage cities and towns to develop as complete communities.xxxiv

      Through comments received during public consultation and a review of the many forward-looking aspects of our mandate, the Panel believes that there is a better way to address transportation issues in the GTAW, and more broadly across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Panel concludes that the bigger picture (i.e., the contribution of transportation projects to broad public policy goals such as mitigating climate change, testing alternatives across modes, and assessing the robustness of actions with respect to uncertainty) can best be addressed through the development of an integrated multi-modal regional transportation plan.

      Having regard for the experience in other jurisdictions, the Panel believes that a regional plan can also guide future environmental assessments and, in particular, lead to expedited project EAs for projects that are identified as part of the plan.

  7. Recommendations for Existing Technical Studies

  8. In addition to assessing options for the existing EA process, the Panel’s terms of reference asked for an assessment of the extent to which existing technical studies can inform future infrastructure needs of partner ministries in the corridor (i.e., in matters relating to rail, hydro and other purposes).

    The Ministry of Transportation worked with numerous public agencies and consultants to develop technical information to assist with the evaluation of corridors identified in Stage 1 and the routes identified in Stage 2 of the GTA West EA process. The technical information included data about land uses, agricultural land classification, status and plans for the study area road network, cultural heritage in the study area and extensive inventories and mapping of natural systems and water resources.

    These data are potentially useful to the Ministry, other ministries, Crown agencies, municipalities, conservation authorities, federal government departments, the private sector and the public for considering future land development and infrastructure plans. The data may also be of interest to academics. The Panel therefore recommends that MTO make the GTA West EA data available and easily accessible online, including relevant information about the data sources, collection methods and timing, to ensure that other users can tap the full potential of the data. The Panel also recommends that the Ministry consider this practice for any data that it gathers for future environmental assessments.

  9. Corridor Protection for Other Transportation Needs

  10. The Panel was also asked to assess the need for protecting the corridor for other transportation needs.

    The Provincial Policy Statement (2005) under the Planning Act requires planning authorities to ”plan for and protect corridors and rights-of-way for transportation, transit and infrastructure facilities to meet current and projected needs” (1.6.6.1) provided that the “planned corridors” are required to meet “projected needs” and are identified in a provincial plan or are “preferred alignment(s)” in an EA process. The PPS (2014) includes a similar policy (1.6.8.1) and more expansive definition of “planned corridors” to mean not only provincial plans and environmental assessment alignments, but also “planning studies” where the Ministry of Transportation is actively pursuing corridor identification.

    Schedules 2, 5, and 6 in the Growth Plan (2006) identify conceptual transportation corridors for the western part of the GGH. The argument could be made that, so long as this provincial plan identifies a conceptual corridor, MTO is obliged to continue to protect the recommended corridor, even if the GTAW EA process is stopped, so long as MTO is actively pursuing the identification of a corridor in the area through a planning study.

    The Growth Plan (2017) also elaborated on the power to plan for corridors, stating that “In planning for the development, optimization, or expansion of existing and planned corridorsxxxv... the Province, other public agencies and upper- and single-tier municipalities will: ensure that existing and planned corridors are protected to meet current and projected needs in accordance with the transportation and infrastructure corridor protection policies in the PPS;” (3.2.5.1 b.). In keeping with the PPS (2005; 2014) and under the Growth Plan (2017) policy, the identification and protection of corridors is related to “need”.

    The Panel believes that the GTAW EA did not demonstrate that the preferred corridor meets the PPS (2005) and Greenbelt Plan (2005) tests for avoiding impacts on provincially protected lands, such as key natural heritage and hydrological features and prime agricultural areas. These tests demand that it be demonstrated that a new corridor crossing these protected lands is the only reasonable option to address future transportation needs. As set out earlier in this chapter, the GTAW EA did not demonstrate that the new corridor is the only reasonable option to address future needs. For these reasons, the Panel is not recommending that there be continued protection of the corridor that was identified as preferred in the GTAW EA.

    The Panel has not comprehensively assessed all of the transportation needs in the northwest GGH or the relevant EAs or MTO planning studies. For example, we are aware of, but did not assess studies by Peel and Halton Regions and the Halton Peel Area Transportation Study (HPBATS) that recommend a freeway that is aligned with part of the GTAW EA’s recommended corridor. It is our understanding that these two regions plan to pursue this freeway if the EA’s preferred corridor does not proceed.

    The Panel also understands that there are currently discussions under way between Metrolinx and private rail companies to provide alternative rail routes that would separate freight rail and transit rail to meet the requirements of the Regional Express Rail plans of the government, while also facilitating the efficient movement of freight by rail. The EA process did not assess this initiative, nor did the Panel have sufficient information to assess it or make a recommendation.

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