Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts
Last night marked the third and final MTO Hanlon workshop studying the proposed improvements to provincial Highway 6 through Guelph. I am a bit disappointed with the results, but happy that changes are likely to be made to the official plan. My position on the upgrades remains that if we had adequate investment in non-road infrastructure, road infrastructure wouldn't be in such dire need of upgrades, but I'll get to that.
The evening started at 6pm with the usual collection of sandwiches, drinks, and cookies piled up on a table at the end of the rather small room. In the initial and final socialising time I was playfully chastised by my several of my elders for my comment last week about being "far and away" the youngest person present. I welcome the news that so many of my peers are reading these entries, but I digress.
During the session, each of the four tables was provided with the plans that each of the four groups came up with last week and given some time to look over and comment on each of the other's proposals.
All four tables' proposals had two basic features in common: Stone Rd interchange was substantially reduced and turned into a single loop on the west side, and a diamond interchange on the east side of the Hanlon, and a service road of some form was present to Kortright/Downey. College Ave was not provided with an exit or service road on any of the proposals. My table's proposal of a roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright was coolly received by our peers though I believe it is the best approach, eliminating one set of traffic lights completely, and smoothening traffic flow at that interchange. Traffic there is mostly limited to local traffic, so getting used to a roundabout is not a significant problem, as some people believed, though it is more expensive than some other approaches as it requires a significant span over the interchange.
Ultimately a consensus formed between the tables and I predict that the resulting "preferred plan" will contain a two-way service road tacked onto the 90-degree curve on Woodland Glenn from Downey to a reduced interchange at Stone Rd. I am not sure whether we accomplished this as a workshop, or if MTO was planning this scale-back regardless. I don't expect ever to know the answer to that. At the start of workshops two weeks ago, we learned that the Stone Rd extension to Highway 24 has been nixed by the city, negating the need for a huge 6-lane overpass at Stone and full interchange. That change allows for Stone to not be diverted southward, and the interchange ramps to be fewer in number and smaller in scale. That in turn allows for the service road that was nearly universally desired.
I am not really satisfied with the results of the workshops, though I accept them as legitimate. Not everyone is going to be happy with such a process, but MTO can say, accurately, that the community was consulted and this is the result that they were given. I note that repeated questions throughout the workshops about air quality were never satisfactorily answered by the MTO. I am told that the city's air quality monitor is in Exhibition Park, a large park set well back from the Hanlon in a relatively low density part of the city, and that air quality baseline studies for the Hanlon have not been done to ascertain what effect the Hanlon changes will have on the air we breathe.
The biggest question for me remains: when is a highway finished? At what point will we look at this highway and say: it doesn't need any further work. One of the gentleman from the MTO at my table was politely annoyed by comments at another table that we needn't save room to eventually expand the Hanlon to 8 lanes, which would force MTO to look for a new corridor sooner. I challenged him on this point, saying more capacity would be necessary, but more highway capacity was not. Once we are done this upgrade, we are going to upgrade Clair to the 401, 401 to Freelton, Wellington to Woodlawn, and Woodlawn to highway 6 well north of town. 2 of those sections require entirely new rights of way to construct. When will we call it finished?
We are going to have to change our approach to highway construction to divert more travellers to mass transit sooner or later. To do that, we have to start somewhere, and the collective resistance to starting that process is troubling to me. We will never accomplish it by injecting millions of dollars into highways when the alternative solutions are a small fraction of the cost. GO Transit's recent announcement to work toward all-day service in Guelph is refreshing and definitely the right track, but the level of investment of that compared to the GTA West highway corridor proposal, Hanlon upgrades, new highway 7 and so forth is essentially insignificant.
My challenge, for the moment, to us is this: let's call transit "infrastructure" instead of a "service", and let's put one tax-dollar into transit for every tax-dollar we put into our roads, parking, and highway systems. In Guelph, from our city budget -- excluding these upgrades -- that looks something like this...
The 2008 operating budget of the City of Guelph is $143,454,237 net.
The 2008 capital budget of the City of Guelph is $32,464,901 net.
Of that $175,919,138, $7,840,051, or about 4.5%, is our net expenditure on transit in the city's budget.
Our net expenditure on roads and parking is more difficult to ascertain.
A chart in the city's capital budget suggests that we are spending $117,718,000 over 10 years on new road construction, mostly funded by developer charges, and $128,720,000 over ten years, entirely funded by the taxpayer on capital investment in current roads, for a total of $246,438,000 on capital road investments in that time period, of which $155,537,000 is directly funded by tax-dollars. The 2008 specific numbers with development charges removed show $8,680,000 tax-dollars for expansion and $12,870,000 for non-growth capital investment in Guelph roads. The parking budget shows a capital expenditure of $16,910,000 on parking in 2008. Together, our capital investment on roads and parking is $38,460,000 in 2008. The keen eye will note that that number exceeds 100% of the capital budget for the year. That is because the parking investment of $16,910,000 shows up as a capital expenditure in a separate document called the "user-pay" budget as opposed to the "capital" budget. I am no accountant so how all these things glue together is not entirely clear to me.
Our operating budget for roads consists of $3,740,800 in roadway maintenance, $1,621,300 in boulevard maintenance, $748,200 in roadway drainage, $2,010,000 of traffic signal maintenance, and $113,100 in traffic investigations which mostly consists of adult crossing guards and traffic counters. Our operating budget for roads and directly related expenses is thus $8,233,400 for 2008.
Therefore the total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for roads in 2008 is $46,693,400. The total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for transit in 2008 is $7,840,051. That doesn't count provincial road investment in Guelph, namely highways 6 and 7.
My bet is that road costs will drop faster than transit costs rise, if we start shifting where we spend our money. As such, aside from the environmental benefits, it should be possible to lower our taxes by raising our investment in public transit. By calling transit "infrastructure" rather than "service", new developments can and should be responsible for paying for the extension of transit systems into their development areas as part of the development charges. Having development charges provide for transit would also encourage transit-friendly development as that would be a way of minimising that cost for a developer.
So there you have it. I am happy that the community was able to come together on some kind of agreement for the Hanlon improvements at Kortright, Stone, and College, but I am disappointed that we are not, collectively, looking at the bigger picture and looking for ways to get us out of our cars rather than facilitating this addiction we nearly all have.
Posted at 14:36 on May 14, 2008
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