Niagara highway idea revived by Tories
Last Updated: Monday, January 10, 2011 | 5:56 PM ET
The Canadian Press
The idea of building a new highway through the Niagara peninsula linking Fort Erie with the Hamilton airport is being revived by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, nine months before Ontario voters face a general election.
An alternate route to the Queen Elizabeth Way from Niagara to Hamilton has been talked about for decades. It was last championed by former Conservative premier Mike Harris but fell out of favour again when the Liberals were first elected in 2003.
Plans for a mid-peninsula highway were shelved again last summer by the Liberals after a Ministry of Transportation study said the four-lane expressway wouldn't be needed for at least another 20 years.
Hudak, who represents Niagara West-Glanbrook, said the Liberals made a mistake in putting off the proposed highway, which would take some traffic off the QEW through the Niagara-Hamilton region.
"I just strongly disagree with [Premier] Dalton McGuinty, who says he's going to put off this important project until 2030 and study it again," said Hudak. "I think that's wrong. We'd go forward."
The new highway would not only bring construction jobs, but would help attract more business to Ontario, creating more full-time employment, said Hudak.
"This will be the biggest investment in job creation, not only building the highway but attracting new businesses and jobs to Niagara, Hamilton and the western GTA, in generations," he said.
"We are a trading economy, and if we don't invest in our highway infrastructure, we're not going to attract the jobs we should in our province."
Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was unavailable for comment Monday, but the government said it was in the process of completing a transportation study for the Niagara to Toronto corridor, considering all modes of transport.
"We are not just planning to build a highway through sensitive lands," the Ministry of Transportation said in an email.
"The previous government launched into plans for building a mega-highway through some very important communities. That is not what we are doing. We want to get it right."
The New Democrats wondered where Hudak would find the money to build the new highway, which was estimated to be $1.3 billion when last costed out 10 years ago.
"The mid-peninsula corridor has been a mythical thing for years," said New Democrat Peter Kormos, who represents the Niagara-area riding of Welland.
"Nobody knows what the route would be, nobody knows who would be using it and nobody knows who would benefit."
The government's preferred options for transportation changes in the region were broken into three segments last summer, including a call for a new highway between Fort Erie and Highway 406 near Welland.
The study only supports adding two high-occupancy vehicle lanes to the QEW between St. Catharines and Burlington.
And it also calls for a new corridor study to connect Highway 403 to Highway 407 somewhere north of Ancaster and Waterdown before crossing the Niagara escarpment in Halton region.
There's no longer any need for a mid-peninsula highway and even former supporters of the idea have changed their minds, said Kormos.
"Hudak's a day late and a dollar short on this one," he said.
"The mid-peninsula corridor is no longer a flavour of the month in regional Niagara."
The government study group did not examine the idea of putting tolls on any new highways linking Niagara and the Greater Toronto Area, but hasn't ruled out charges for motorists.
"The Ontario government is committed to considering innovative ways to fund new infrastructure projects, including tolling," says the government's Niagara-GTA website page of frequently asked questions.
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