Executive Summary


Growth is occurring across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, but the area immediately northwest of Toronto in particular is currently experiencing significant increases in population and employment. This area includes portions of York, Peel and Halton regions, as well as Wellington County and the City of Guelph. According to forecasts in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006), by 2041, more than five million people are expected to call these municipalities home, which will more than double their 2001 populations.

The Growth Plan (2006) also anticipates employment growth in the area of more than one million jobs between 2001 and 2041. Significantly more people and more jobs will lead to significantly more travel, and concerns have been raised that increasing travel demand and congestion in the area will have an adverse impact on quality of life. Over the past 20 years, a number of plans and studies envisaged a new highway corridor as a possible solution for transportation problems anticipated in the area.

In 2008, the Ministry of Transportation began the Greater Toronto Area West Corridor Environmental Assessment (GTAW EA). Stage 1 of the GTAW EA was completed in 2012, with the release of a Transportation Development Strategy (TDS). The strategy recommended a suite of transportation actions in four areas (these actions are referred to as the GTAW Recommended Actions in this report):

  • Transportation Demand Management (TDM) and Transportation System Management (TSM)
  • Transit improvements;
  • Highway/road expansions and extensions; and
  • A new corridor of approximately 48 km from Hwy 400 to Hwy 401, where it meets Hwy 407.

These actions are depicted on the following map — Figure E-1.

recommended actions stage1.jpg

Figure E-1: The Recommended Actions from Stage 1 of the EA (TDS, 2012)

The image presents the Transportation Development Strategy which traverses the regions of York, Peel, Halton, and Waterloo. The transit improvements include potential rapid transit lines, highway road expansions/extensions, and new corridors. Potential transit connections among the Western Urban Growth Centres are depicted (between Guelph, Waterloo, Cambridge, Hamilton and Milton), in addition to highway extensions along highways 400, 401, 407, and 410.

The specific recommendation of a new corridor was carried forward to Stage 2 of the EA for detailed route planning. The rest of the recommended actions from Stage 1 were referred to the appropriate ministries, departments, agencies and municipalities for their further consideration and action.

Review of the GTAW EA

In December 2015, the Ministry of Transportation temporarily suspended the GTAW EA, in order to review the work undertaken to date, and the EA’s 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 make recommendations on next steps and provide advice on a path forward for the EA process. The Minister also asked that the Panel address five topics (see Appendix 1 for the full terms of reference):

  • 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, examine the potential for 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 technical studies completed 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.

As the basis of its strategic assessment, the Panel reviewed material dating back more than a decade, and benefited from the input of internal and external experts. Although its original terms of reference did not include any new opportunities for public input, in the fall of 2016, the Panel conducted consultations at the Minister’s request (see Appendix A2-1 for the bulletin).

The Panel also commissioned a number of travel demand forecasts to re-examine the anticipated benefits of the GTAW Recommended Actions, in light of emerging trends and technologies (such as self-driving vehicles), to explore potential alternative approaches to meeting future transportation demand, and to test these potential alternatives as well as the GTAW Recommended Actions for alignment with current government policy. The results of this assessment process informed the Panel’s recommendations for next steps and advice on a path forward for the EA.


In the fall of 2016, the Panel invited the public and key stakeholders to share their concerns about the GTAW EA. Those consulted included municipalities, the development industry, the passenger and freight transportation sector, the agricultural sector, conservation authorities, environmental non-governmental organizations and indigenous communities. Submissions were also solicited on the GTAW Website and via e-mail. A number of themes recurred in the concerns that were raised:

  • Integrated Planning: Concern was expressed that the GTAW corridor was being considered in isolation. Adopting more of a whole-system approach tied to long-range provincial plans was advised.
  • Certainty: Municipal, development and agricultural stakeholders in particular emphasized the need for greater certainty about the future of the proposed new corridor.
  • Congestion and Movement of Goods: Congestion was raised as a serious concern, and the efficient movement of goods was seen as crucial to making the region prosperous and attractive to investment.
  • Environment: Concern was expressed over the new corridor’s potential impacts on the Greenbelt and how these impacts had been treated in the EA process. Concerns about additional greenhouse gas emissions were also raised, in light of the province’s 2016 action plan on climate change.
  • Emerging Technologies: Organizations and municipalities noted that they were beginning to consider technologies such as self-driving vehicles and shared mobility in their planning. Many saw the new corridor as an opportunity to incorporate innovative approaches.

Innovation, Change and Uncertainty

The Panel was asked to assess emerging technologies, trends and policy objectives for their impact on future travel demand in the GTAW area. The Panel looked at the potential implications and the relative certainty of new developments in three areas: technology, the economy and demographics.

On the technology side, e-commerce is expected to change travel patterns, but may not have a significant impact on total travel demand. Shared mobility is currently proving to be transformative for a subset of travelers, but it remains to be seen whether, when and how these services will extend to the broader population. Self-driving vehicles may induce people to travel more, but may also increase the road system’s capacity.

On the economic front, freight distribution patterns are shifting in response to growth in different manufacturing centres and the widening of the Panama Canal. Locally, employment is becoming more flexible, as it moves away from manufacturing and towards the service sector. Ontario’s economy is growing more slowly than in the past, as is its population. As baby boomers age and retire, their travel needs and patterns will change. Millennials are already displaying different travel patterns than previous generations.

Many of these technologies and trends have only developed over the last 10 years, creating major uncertainty about their individual and cumulative impact on society over the long term. This societal uncertainty translates into transportation uncertainty about the future.

Alternative Approaches and Transportation Benefits

The Panel assessed a number of alternative approaches for their potential to affect future transportation demand in the GTAW study area and beyond. To assess transportation demand, the Panel relied on modeling developed by MTO that focused on transportation benefits, particularly travel time savings.

Using this modeling, the Panel assessed different scenarios related to the GTAW EA’s Recommended Actions and also considered seven alternative future scenarios as follows:

  • The GTAW Recommended Actions;
  • The GTAW Recommended Actions Without the Proposed new Corridor;
  • Alternative Land Uses;
  • Public Transit;
  • Self-Driving Vehicles;
  • Congestion Pricing; and
  • Hwy 407 Truck Priority Lanes.

After testing these scenarios, the Panel drew the general conclusions outlined below.

Transportation Benefits from the Recommended Actions

The Panel’s modeling results suggested that the GTAW Recommended Actions would deliver transportation benefits in the form of travel time savings across a range of future scenarios. In some scenarios, such as the self-driving vehicle scenarios, the results suggested higher travel time savings. In others, such as the slower-growth, “compact” land use scenarios, modeling results suggested lower travel time savings. Translating these model results into practical findings, the Panel concluded that the GTAW Recommended Actions would deliver approximately one minute of travel time savings per vehicular trip across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. On its own, the proposed new GTAW highway corridor would deliver approximately half of those savings, or about 30 seconds per vehicle trip.

Overstatement of Benefits

The GTAW EA’s Recommended Actions included four groups of actions: travel demand management (TDM) and transportation system management (TSM) actions, transit actions, highway expansions and extensions and a new highway corridor. The Panel had two concerns about the actions contained in these groups:

  • The third group of actions, highway expansions and extensions, included actions that are now already completed, under way or being assessed under separate EAs. Their ongoing progress indicates that they are separate infrastructure projects, independent of the GTAW EA’s conclusions. Altogether, these highway extensions and expansions represented approximately half of the travel time savings that would result from the EA’s Recommended Actions.
  • The transportation benefits ascribed to the first and second group of actions, TDM and TSM and transit-related reductions in vehicular travel demand, were based on unsupported assumptions. Moreover, these Recommended Actions were vague, making them difficult to implement in the event that the GTAW EA were approved.

Based on these concerns, the Panel has concluded that the proposal for a new highway corridor is the only action that hinges on the outcome of the GTAW EA. The Panel also concluded that the EA’s evaluation should have been limited to assessing this action in comparison with other alternatives.

Benefits from Unexplored Alternatives

The Panel was asked to examine potential alternative approaches to meeting future transportation demand beyond those set out in the EA. A number of these alternative scenarios showed considerable promise to deliver travel time savings in the same order of magnitude as the proposed GTAW corridor, although often the benefits accrued on a broader regional scale. The scenarios include:

  • Congestion Pricing: Various lane configurations were tested, and they delivered travel time savings ranging from about equal to the proposed GTAW highway to more than 10 times greater.
  • Hwy 407 Truck Lanes: Adding dedicated truck lanes to Hwy 407 and reducing truck tolls would likely deliver travel time savings similar to the proposed GTAW highway for all users, and for goods movement in particular.
  • Land Use Management: A slower-growth and more compact land use scenario modeled by the Panel resulted in shorter travel times than those delivered by the proposed GTAW highway.

All of these scenarios would require further exploration to determine their feasibility and public desirability, but the Panel found them to be worthy of consideration, certainly before making a commitment to build a new highway. To best determine the preferred suite of actions, a broader systems approach would be advisable, but this would be beyond the scope of a typical project EA.

The Panel noted that while the planned Regional Express Rail project offers significant travel time savings through the study area and from the study area to Toronto, no new public transit scenario delivered comparable travel time savings or congestion alleviation in the study area.

Policy Congruence and Performance Objectives

Transportation planning has conventionally focused on performance indicators such as travel time savings and reduced congestion. New directions in provincial policy require transportation investments to fulfill a wider range of social, economic and environmental policy goals. The Panel tested the GTAW Recommended Actions and each alternative scenario against the policies favouring complete communities, shorter trip distances and modal split, which were drawn from the Growth Plan (2006). These are further supported by the Performance Indicators for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2015).

A number of the alternative scenarios tested by the Panel appeared to deliver both economic and complete community benefits, namely the congestion pricing scenarios and the slower-growth, compact land use scenarios. These scenarios were also more consistent with the direction in the Provincial Policy Statement (2005) and the Growth Plan (2006) to optimize existing infrastructure. In its modeling re-assessment, the Panel found that the GTAW Recommended Actions provided economic-oriented transportation benefits, but that they did not provide complete community benefits.i Overall, the Panel found the EA’s consideration of these complete community policies to be secondary. In addition, the Panel was concerned that adding highway capacity could induce more vehicular travel, and potentially further undermine complete community policy goals and provincial commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Implications of Land Use Forecasts

The Panel explored two alternative land use scenarios: one that was consistent with the updated 2013 provincial forecast in the Growth Plan and one that relied on recently observed trends of slower, more compact growth. The slower, more compact growth scenario was found to result in shorter travel times than those projected from the new GTAW corridor. Moreover, under this slower, more compact growth scenario, adding the GTAW Recommended Actions delivered fewer benefits than it did under the EA’s assumed forecasts (which were based on the 2006 Growth Plan forecasts). These findings indicated that exploring the interaction between alternate land use scenarios and different transportation outcomes could lead to a different long-term travel demand management strategy, and could defer or even offset the need for major new transportation investments.

Policy Context

Following World War II, Ontario’s transportation system saw several decades of rapid expansion, motivated primarily by economic considerations such as more efficient travel times. Facing pressure to curb urban sprawl, the province subsequently reoriented its approach, first through the requirement for environmental assessment in 1975, and second through the introduction of a new policy framework between 2004 and 2006. These changes embraced a suite of broader economic, social and environmental goals for provincial transportation infrastructure.

Key to this new policy framework was the requirement, introduced in 2004, that decisions affecting planning matters, including those made by a Minister or a ministry, must be consistent with policy statements (Planning Act, s.3(5)), rather than only having “regard for” such statements, as had previously been the case. In 2006, a second obligation was added: decisions must also “conform with” provincial plans. In the space of two years, two provincial plans, the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006), were released, along with a new PPS (2005). These documents forged a new framework for policy-led planning in Ontario.

The Government of Ontario also provided guidance on the interaction between these policies. In the event of a conflict, provincial plans should take precedence over policies in the PPS, except in matters relating to human health and the natural environment, in which case the policy that provides more protection was to prevail. The Greenbelt Plan (2005), Growth Plan (2006), and PPS (2005) all reference Ontario’s requirements for environmental assessment, and make it clear that while infrastructure projects may require approvals under the Environmental Assessment Act, they are also subject to these policies and plans (e.g., Greenbelt Plan s.; Growth Plan s. and; PPS s.4.8).

The GTAW EA’s Policy Framework

The GTAW EA laid out a policy framework of nine documents in its terms of reference, from which it distilled a number of lists of principles that would guide the identification of transportation problems, opportunities and potential solutions. Each of the five Stage 1 reports that followed identified its own list of applicable documents, interpreted the pertinent policies in varying degrees of detail, and at times created new lists of goals and objectives. In the Panel’s view, this approach of grouping policies may have satisfied earlier tests, namely having “regard for” such policies, but the Panel believes the new tests of “consistency” and “conformity” required that the EA use a more detailed approach to specific policies and their relevance to environmental assessment requirements.

Growth Plan (2006)

In reviewing the GTAW EA’s application of the Growth Plan (2006), the Panel had concerns regarding the stated Purpose of the EA and the application of policy direction regarding complete communities.

The GTAW EA sets out as part of its purpose, “to provide better linkages between Urban Growth Centres” (Terms of Reference, p. 11). The Panel is concerned that the Growth Plan (2006) provides general support for linking urban growth centres only in its non-policy, contextual commentary. The policies themselves specifically describe transit links between growth centres (3.2.4). The Panel found that the GTAW EA’s evaluation of alternatives focused primarily on different highway corridors, and reserved the decision to include a transitway for Stage 2. The Panel is thus concerned that the EA’s purpose rested on Growth Plan (2006) context statements, and not on policy.

Schedule 6 of the Growth Plan (2006) provides direction on future transportation corridors, including one within the GTAW EA’s study area. However, the relevant policies state that this map “provides the strategic framework for future goods movement investment decisions in the GGH” (, and that the first priority of highway investment is the efficient movement of goods ( The Panel would thus have expected the GTAW EA to have aligned the purpose of the EA with assessing corridors for goods movement, rather than emphasizing improved connections between urban growth centres.

Finally, one of the guiding principles of the Growth Plan (2006) is to “Build compact, vibrant and complete communities” (1.2.2), and numerous policies within the plan offer support for a pattern, density and mix of land uses that enable more people to fulfill their everyday needs within their own neighbourhoods, using modes other than personal automobiles to travel. As discussed above under Policy Congruence and Performance Objectives, the Panel found that the GTAW EA only partially incorporated this new policy direction in its evaluation.

Greenbelt Plan (2005)

The GTAW study area includes some of the most productive farmland in Ontario, environmentally valuable wetlands, headwaters, tributaries and significant forest ecosystems ‒ areas which have received protection under the Greenbelt Plan (2005). That plan anticipated that new infrastructure would be built within the Greenbelt if it: a) supported permitted activities within the Greenbelt (e.g., agriculture, recreation, tourism, resource use), or b) served significant growth beyond the Greenbelt by linking urban growth centres and provincial borders. A further five conditions are provided that require optimizing existing infrastructure, minimizing the amount of the Greenbelt (and particularly the Natural Heritage System) crossed, minimizing specific impacts, and avoiding key natural heritage and hydrological features, unless it has been demonstrated that there is a) need and b) no reasonable alternative.

The GTAW EA’s process partially considered the minimization requirements in Stage 1, but deferred much of this analysis to Stage 2. For example, the number of kilometres of Greenbelt that would be traversed by each alternative was recorded, but the amount of Natural Heritage System that would be affected was not documented.

Moreover, while Stage 1 listed key natural and hydrological features across the whole study area, the EA did not identify which of these were located within the Greenbelt until Stage 2. As a result, the EA made the decision to propose a new corridor and to determine its location without conforming to the Greenbelt Plan (2005) policy requirements to avoid key natural heritage and key hydrological features unless need had been demonstrated and no reasonable alternative was available.

Provincial Policy Statement (2005)

Similar to the Greenbelt Plan (2005), the agricultural policies of the PPS (2005) contain a test for the removal of prime agricultural lands for “limited non-residential uses” ( Again, there must be a demonstrated need, and there must be no reasonable alternative location that avoids the prime agricultural area entirely, or that has prime agricultural lands of a lower-priority classification. The GTAW EA process did provide some consideration of prime agricultural lands. For example, it measured the linear distance of Class 1-3 agricultural lands that would be potentially impacted and ranked alternative corridors from lowest potential impact through to highest potential impact. However, the Panel concluded that this assessment did not replace the four-part test described above, and particularly the tests to demonstrate “need” and “no reasonable alternative locations”.

These provincial plans and policy statements also contain guidance on the optimization of infrastructure. The PPS (2005) in particular directs that existing infrastructure should be optimized, wherever feasible, before consideration is given to developing new infrastructure (1.6.2). The Panel found that the GTAW EA did not adequately address this guidance, for reasons discussed below, under Environmental Assessment Process.

Ontario’s Changing Policy Framework

Since the commencement of the GTAW EA, there have been several updates to provincial policy and several new initiatives that are now relevant to this EA. The overall trend in these updates and new initiatives is towards greater protection for the environment, greater emphasis on compact, complete communities, and greater choice for travel in a connected, multi-modal transportation system.

In particular, the creation of Metrolinx in 2006, and the release of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) two years later, changed the face of transportation planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The RTP laid out a mixture of actions and policy objectives which were supported by the province through an initial commitment of $11.5-billion in funding for key transit projects. In its modeling, the RTP assumed the existence of a future transportation corridor in the GTAW EA study area, as depicted in the Growth Plan (2006). Likewise, the GTAW EA included assumptions about actions from the RTP (2008). These practices illustrate how the existing institutional framework separates decisions related to different modes (MTO for highways, Metrolinx for transit).

As well, in 2016, Ontario passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, which legislated progressively more stringent emission reduction targets for Ontario. The new legislation was followed by Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (2016), which laid out actions to be undertaken over the next five years to meet these goals. In the Panel’s consultation, several of the submissions received expressed concern that a new highway appeared to be out of alignment with the province’s commitment to these targets. The Panel believes that it is important to assess how each project will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

n the Panel’s view, with respect to policies on climate change and complete communities, the best route to progress is through a regional approach to planning and managing the transportation system, to better achieve climate change objectives (i.e., greenhouse gas emission reductions) as well as economic objectives (i.e., travel time reductions) and social objectives (i.e., complete communities).

Environmental Assessment Process

As part of its strategic assessment, and to make recommendations on next steps and offer advice on a path forward for the GTAW EA, the Panel reviewed the work done in the EA over the past decade. The following sections highlight some areas of the Panel’s concerns.

In creating alternatives to the undertaking, the EA began with a list of 297ii individual actions. It proceeded to categorize these actions into four groups for assessment:

  • Group #1: Optimize existing networks;
  • Group #2: New/expanded non-road infrastructure;
  • Group #3: Widen/improve roads; and
  • Group #4: New transportation corridor.

The EA framed these groups as “additive”. This meant that Group #2 included all the individual actions in Group #1, Group #3 included all the actions within both Groups #1 and #2, and so on.

The Panel had a number of concerns with this framework. First, the additive approach to bundling groups undermined the GTAW EA as a mechanism for assessing alternatives. Particularly in areas with high growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, adding any group of actions to any other group of actions would very mechanically lead to an expectation of more benefits. It is unclear how this approach to environmental assessment could ever lead to any conclusion other than that the most comprehensive list of actions assessed would also be the list of actions that the process recommended.

Second, the GTAW EA did not specifically define some of the groups that were added together to form the alternatives. Notably, it is unclear what TDM and TSM (Group #1) or transit and non-roadway improvements (Group #2) were being proposed. These actions are therefore difficult to assess, implement or evaluate as insufficient to meet need based on the GTAW EA. Another concern is that the Group #3 alternatives (3-1, 3-2, and 3-3) included expansions to Hwy 407 beyond the 10-lane maximum set out in the Hwy 407 legislation and agreement. Alternative 3-1 was the only alternative to a new corridor that was carried forward. In contrast, the new corridor alternatives (4-1 through 4-5) included highway expansions that did not exceed the 10-lane maximum on Hwy 407, and in this respect the EA partially abandoned the additive approach that it had been using up to that point.

Third, the Panel also identified several issues related to the EA’s assessment of the need for a new corridor. Demonstrating the need for an undertaking is an important component of any EA. It was of particular importance for the GTAW, due to policy requirements to optimize existing infrastructure before building more, and to demonstrate both need and the lack of reasonable alternatives for removing prime agricultural lands or crossing key Greenbelt natural heritage or hydrologic features.

The GTAW EA appeared to treat “need” as synonymous with “opportunity.” The preference for the recommended alternative (Alternative 4-2, which included a new highway corridor) compared to 3-1 (widening and extending existing highways) rested in part on “opportunities,” rather than “need”. As well, the Panel was concerned that the GTAW EA did not address the “Do Nothing” alternative, or accurately define the base case scenario as an alternative for consideration. Both need and the capacity to meet need could have been assessed by testing the base case as an alternative to the Do Nothing alternative and existing conditions.

In addition, the Panel found that the GTAW EA’s definition and use of the base case to establish need was not appropriate. Specifically, the GTAW Recommended Actions included a suite of highway widenings and extensions, several of which were already being planned, programmed, and (some of which) are already under way. These actions should thus have been included in the base case scenario, rather than in the Recommended Actions. The capacity for these actions to meet need should then have been independently assessed as one of the alternatives to a new corridor. As well, the GTAW Recommended Actions included unspecific TDM and TSM measures which could have been completed independently of the Recommended Actions, as part of the base case or as an alternative. In the Panel’s view, the EA’s method of assessing these optimization options (Groups #1 and #2) was not appropriate.

Finally, the GTAW EA eliminated or did not carry forward actions and alternatives without a clear rationale. Especially notable examples, particularly in light of the strict reasonable alternative policy test and the policy to prioritize infrastructure optimization over developing new infrastructure, are listed here:

  • Alternative 3-1 was not carried forward due to “cost and constructability,” with little supporting documentation;
  • Alternatives 3-2 and 3-3, which included widening local roads (e.g., Hwy 7 and Hwy 9) were not carried forward;
  • Congestion pricing was eliminated as a specific optimization and travel demand management action; and
  • The GTAW EA identified 297 actions, none of which was eliminated from consideration, but many of which were nevertheless not carried forward.

Overall, the EA did not demonstrate that a new corridor was the only reasonable alternative.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Future Travel Demand in the GTAW Corridor

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.

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 include growth forecasts, alternate policy actions and travel demand model assumptions, among others.

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

Self-driving Vehicles

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.

Potential Alternative Approaches

The Panel was asked to 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:

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

Alternatives to the GTAW Recommended Actions

The Panel found four specific alternatives that are capable of providing travel benefits comparable to the GTAW EA’s proposed new highway.

Highway expansions and extensions

The Panel concluded that the highway extensions and expansions that were part of the suite of GTAW Recommended Actions should be considered separately from the new highway corridor. Many of these highway extensions and expansions can be considered independently of the EA, as they are already being planned, under way or in some cases completed. The Panel found that the travel benefits of these extensions and expansions are approximately equal to those of the proposed new corridor. This alternative is well aligned with provincial policy to improve capacity for goods movement and improve linkages to existing and planned intermodal facilities. Moreover, in so far that this alternative represents expansions of existing infrastructure, it is aligned with provincial policy to optimize existing infrastructure.

Congestion Pricing

The Panel found that congestion pricing scenarios provided travel time savings ranging from approximately equal to more than 10 times greater than those projected from the new GTAW corridor. Provincial policy supports pricing as a TDM strategy and the Panel was unable to determine why this alternative was not further evaluated by the GTAW EA.

Truck Priority on Hwy 407

The Panel’s analyses showed that providing truck priority on Hwy 407 through additional highway capacity or subsidy (e.g., trucks pay no toll) would deliver travel time benefits that are similar to those of the proposed GTAW corridor. Such opportunities should be viewed cautiously, however, since 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 Hwy 407 legislation and agreement. However, this truck priority scenario is aligned with the Growth Plan (2006) policy direction that highway investments should facilitate efficient goods movement.

Alternate Land Use and Growth Scenarios

Finally, the Panel observed that alternate land use and growth scenarios appear to have a significant impact on transportation system performance, including travel time savings. For example, a scenario with slower growth and more compact land use patterns than those forecast in the Growth Plan (2006) resulted in shorter travel times. In the Panel’s view, these findings suggest that how land uses evolve and are shaped by planning functions can have a significant impact on the performance of the transportation system as a whole, and perhaps defer (or even supplant) the need for some new transportation investments. 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. However, the Panel believes that these alternate land use scenarios merit more attention.

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

Alternative Planning Approaches

The Panel observed that many aspects of the GTAW EA suggested an effort to fill a gap between provincial planning policy (Growth Plan, PPS, Greenbelt Plan) and an individual project environmental assessment. At times, the EA appeared to be attempting to create both a transportation plan for the study area and an individual project EA. The Panel believes that this joint objective did not assist the planning process for this EA.

Through this strategic assessment, the Panel has identified several overarching provincial policies that are better addressed through system-wide actions than through project EAs. These include complete communities, climate change action and goods movement. Other jurisdictions have found that long-term multi-modal transportation planning presents an opportunity to better evaluate uncertainty and test the robustness of plans in advancing policy goals.

In the Panel’s view, if an individual project EA were established within the context of a single long-term multi-modal transportation plan, there would be opportunities to make its role clearer, its scope narrower, and its process shorter.

The Panel noted that both MTO and Metrolinx are currently engaged in long-term planning in the region: MTO is working on the Greater Golden Horseshoe Multi-modal Transportation Plan, and Metrolinx is reviewing the Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Provincial policies from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs serve as the starting point for these initiatives. In the Panel’s view, if transit, roads, and other planning initiatives are not fully integrated in the same regional plan, there is virtually no way to demonstrate to the public how compromises are made and how policy objectives are being achieved.


The Panel recommends the development of a single transportation plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Such a plan has the potential to explicitly consider uncertainty and systematically evaluate the robustness of recommendations with respect to alternative possible future scenarios. The plan would also provide the opportunity to consider changing social and economic conditions, as well as technological changes such as connected and self-driving vehicles.

Our strongest recommendation is that any such plan be aligned with provincial policies and the legal standards of conformity and consistency with these policies. The Panel also recommends that the plan set priorities for alternative projects across modes and demand management actions. The plan should also establish performance measures and be regularly reviewed and updated. Ideally, ongoing transportation planning efforts and plans (such as the GGH Multi-modal Plan and the RTP) would be required to meet these important opportunities and standards.

Options for the GTAW EA Process

Stage 1 of the GTAW EA recommended a suite of actions, including a new highway corridor, expansions and extensions of existing highways, transit system improvements, and TSM and TDM measures, to meet the travel demand forecast in the GTAW study area.

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.

These recommendations are supported by the results of the Panel’s strategic assessment, whose key findings are summarized as follows:

  • In 2008, when the GTAW EA began, the Ontario policy context required that the EA be consistent with and conform to (rather than simply have regard to) provincial policy. This represented a significant change compared to the policy context of the decade preceding the EA. The Panel finds that the GTAW Recommended Actions did not meet this test, particularly with respect to policies requiring the optimization of existing infrastructure, the protection of valuable lands, the prioritization of highways for goods movement, and the encouragement to increase transit use and shorten commute journeys in support of complete communities.
  • The EA did not demonstrate that a new corridor which crosses protected lands (both prime agricultural lands and key natural heritage and hydrologic features) was the only option available to address the study area’s future transportation needs.
  • The Panel’s assessment concluded that planned highway extensions and expansions will deliver benefits equivalent to the proposed new highway, but these actions were not independently assessed as alternatives in the EA.
  • The Panel found that other alternative actions are capable of providing benefits equivalent to or greater than the recommended new corridor, including congestion pricing, priority truck lanes on Hwy 407 and growth management. While these actions are aligned with provincial policies, such as optimization and compact, complete communities, the Panel recognizes that they also raise a number of other policy issues that will need further investigation.
  • The Panel has identified several overarching provincial policies that are better addressed through system-wide actions rather than through individual project EAs.

The Panel also recommends against revising this EA. In our 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. Further, the current EA terms of reference are not aligned with provincial standards and policy, and thus do not provide an appropriate foundation on which to begin a new EA.

Recommendations for Existing Technical Studies

The technical information compiled for the GTAW EA included data about land uses, agricultural land classification, status and plans for the study area’s road network, cultural heritage in the study area and extensive inventories and mapping of natural systems and water resources. The Panel felt that this information could be of interest to many parties both within and outside government.

Consequently, the Panel recommends that MTO make the GTAW 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.

Corridor Protection for Other Transportation Needs

The Panel was also asked to assess the need for protecting the corridor for other transportation needs. In keeping with the PPS (2005; 2014), and under the Growth Plan (2006) policy, the identification and protection of corridors is related to need. As outlined above, the Panel found that the GTAW EA did not demonstrate that the proposed highway corridor met the test of need and the lack of reasonable alternatives for crossing valuable and protected lands, as required by the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and PPS (2005). The Panel is thus not recommending that there be continued protection of the corridor identified as preferred in the GTAW EA.

The Panel did not assess the work done by Peel and Halton Regions for the Halton Peel Boundary Area Transportation Study (HPBATS), which include a freeway that is aligned with part of the EA’s recommended corridor. It is our understanding that these two regions plan to pursue this freeway if the GTAW 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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