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GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting 1

Last night, I attended the first GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting in Milton, along with 16 other residents from the affected area. The first meeting was an introduction by the MTO and their consultants to the process we were engaging in. The Community Advisory Group consists of any citizen who wishes to participate, except elected officials who have their own group for contributing to this process.

The GTA West study area stretches from the Hanlon on the west side of Guelph, along the CP tracks south of the 401 (Cambridge GO advocates, take note!), picking up the 407 at Milton and stretching to the 400 in the east. The northern limits are fuzzy, approximately aligning with Bolton, Caledon, and Fergus. In spite of its huge population and location, Waterloo region is excluded from the GTA West study area.

Asked why Waterloo region is not included, we were told that they are getting their new Highway 7 and so the priority is elsewhere. This confirms something Environment Commissioner Gord Miller warned a group of us some months ago: if you get your highway, you will not get anything else. To regions begging for highways, do be careful what you wish for. Notwithstanding that, the organisers assured us that there are no firm plans for anything at this stage in the GTA West EA. This is the input stage at the end of which, estimated to be in late 2009, MTO will decide what to do next.

GTA West's conceptual maps show a link from Guelph to Brampton. While that is only a part of the study area, a link from the northern tip of Guelph to Brampton makes the most sense as a highway linking the soon-to-be-constructed Highway 7 from Kitchener to Guelph with Highway 407 in Brampton. Coupled with the exclusion of Waterloo region because of the construction of their new highway, I suspect that a highway is indeed the province's first choice, although that may change. On Monday, in a joint press conference with Premier Charest, Premier McGuinty said that we should not be investing in the 401 corridor but rather in high speed rail. That deeply needed philosophical change in our government may yet be coming. The conceptual transportation (highway) route is parallel to an existing and under-utilised railway route.

Indeed, there seemed to be little disagreement in the room to the frequent and forceful mention of improved rail transit in this study area by several of the participants from all quadrants. I brought up Pearson International Airport's role in our transit study area as well, as it borders the GTA West study area and is passed by no fewer than 16 passenger trains per day -- that do not stop. I also brought up the idea of using the railway tracks from Hamilton to Oshawa via Milton, Georgetown, and Thornhill now used extensively by Canadian National but not by passenger trains as a new GO line, connecting to each of the 7 existing GO routes as it does the perimeter of the GTA. This would allow people to get around the entire GTA without going through Union Station.

There are several other study areas parallel to our own, most notably a Niagara region study area considering a new transportation corridor from the US border to a point between Hamilton and Guelph. One can only imagine that this is connected to the urgency of upgrading Highway 6 through Guelph to the new Highway 7 and GTA West corridor.

The poor state of our transit system forced our meeting to be in Milton, south of the CP tracks and just outside of the study area we were discussing. The organisers want locations accessible by transit that are central to the study area, and the lack of such places should be a lesson in what we need to be working on as the Community Advisory Group.

It is early enough in the process for all these regions (except Waterloo region, which begged for, and got, a new Highway 7 and is now excluded from this process) to force the issue of mass transit, namely rail, to the forefront. Highway construction has to end and I think more and more people are coming to realise that. Build highways, get cars. Build transit, get places.

The next CAG meeting will not take place until September.

On another note, today is Clean Air Day and Guelph Transit's busses are free today. Do not pass up on that opportunity, if you are in Guelph.

Posted at 10:12 on June 04, 2008

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