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Hanlon upgrade PIC #3 looks familiar

Last night, MTO put on its third Public Information Centre about upgrades to the Hanlon through Guelph, based on the community workshops that took place last month. 6 designs were presented at the PIC, each with an alternative design. The consensus at the workshops called for two main points: a service road between Stone and Kortright, and the removal of the east-to-north loop at the Stone interchange.

The six design alternatives presented were the four from the workshops, and two from MTO loosely based on the workshop designs. The alternative designs attached to each and every one included the east-to-north loop at the Stone interchange to provide access for the Stone Road extension, which has been nixed by the city. Clearly MTO believes that this will be un-nixed by a future council and are not shy to plan based on that rather distressing assumption.

On first glance, their alternative designs only have a single-direction service road between Kortright and Stone, but it is indeed a two-way road if you look carefully. The workshops wanted this service road along the west side of the Hanlon so it would affect the people who would most benefit from it, and several proposals were offered to make that work. MTO decided to put it on the east side, but at the very least the proposal now includes a service road allowing north-side access to the Hanlon at Kortright. This will allow us to at least pretend that the Hanlon is still a local highway, not a Guelph bypass. College Ave will still be abandoned by these plans.

I am really not sure what to make of the usefulness of the workshops. I felt at the start of them that the MTO had a good idea of what they were going to change the Hanlon design to after the initial backlash, and used the workshops only to be able to say that that's what the citizens told them they want, stifling future objections.

New ideas introduced at the workshops, such as a grade-separated roundabout with a single span over it at Kortright to a service road were not considered further by MTO in their next draft plan. The idea on the table for the roundabout would not be as chaotic as the many zero-visibility traffic light encumbered roundabouts you might find in Montreal, like Dorval or the (now defunct) l'Acadie circle. It would be servicing a local road and, with a single bridge span over it, would have good visibility in all directions with virtually no additional land use over the current highway. It is unfortunate that the MTO is clearly unwilling to seriously entertain the idea. It is part of a larger problem of old-style thinking without looking at what real progress needs to be made.

This morning, I had to drive down to Aldershot VIA station to drop my wife off to catch VIA train number 97 to the US. To get there, I had to take the Hanlon, 401, Highway 6 South, and the 403. At Aldershot station, a new parking lot is about to open because the GO/VIA lot is full to the point that I had nowhere to park to wait with her for the train. On the connection from the Hanlon to the 401 and on to Highway 6 South, there was an enormous amount of traffic, and it took a couple of light cycles to make the right turn from the 401 exit ramp onto Highway 6 South.

There are two ways we can interpret this traffic. The simple way to see it is that there is so much traffic on this road that we must upgrade the highway, build an expressway section from the bottom of the Hanlon to south of the first town on Highway 6 South to bypass the bottleneck, and otherwise make our roads bigger and better. This is the approach MTO is using. It accomplishes short term objectives of relieving bottlenecks, and increases the relative efficiency of the automobile over other modes of transportation.

That brings us to the other way to see it: Why was I driving to Aldershot in the first place? Why are quite so many people driving on this highway? Why was it hard to count fewer than 15 consecutive vehicles going the other way with only one occupant in each one? Granted not everyone can travel without a vehicle or car-pool. Some people have to bring large loads with them everywhere they go for their particular work, or have such esoteric origins and destinations that no transit system will ever be viable for them. But for what I suspect is the majority of those cars (and trucks, but we'll get back to them in a second), they are driving between Waterloo region or Guelph and Hamilton, destinations that could have a transit system that works for them.

To answer the first question, and in many ways the rest as a result, I was driving to Aldershot because the train from Guelph does not connect to the train to New York. VIA train 86 leaves Guelph at 7:07 and arrives at Toronto Union Station at 8:24. VIA train 97 (Amtrak train 464) leaves Toronto Union Station at 8:30, six minutes after the scheduled arrival of 86. Both VIA's website and the ticket agent we bought the tickets from know that this is an impossible connection to make, and so I had to drive nearly 100 km round trip -- around $12 of gas, producing about 47 pounds of CO2 emissions -- to drop my wife off at Aldershot station, because VIA's scheduling is probably four minutes off of a usable connection.

Even if that connection was achievable (and it can be, in 2000 I took that very train from Guelph and picked up the outbound from Union under an old schedule without any trouble), it would not be useful for most Guelph-Hamilton travellers, only longer haul folks like us. And that brings me to my preferred solution to the Hanlon and Highway 6 upgrades which, as they are currently planned, will add up to several hundred million dollars of capital outlay, plus huge maintenance costs, all laid on taxpayers.

There is a railway line from downtown Guelph to downtown Hamilton. In Campbellville, it meets up and junctions with another track that goes to downtown Milton and downtown Cambridge. The track from Guelph to Hamilton is one of the quietest mainlines in Ontario. To Campbellville, 1 single freight train a day runs in each direction, usually in mid morning and mid afternoon, far from commuter train schedules. From Campbellville to Hamilton, there's more traffic, but not an insurmountable amount for a small investment in signalling and passing tracks. As you might have guessed, this track hosts no passenger service whatsoever, and hasn't since the subsidised automobile revolution conquered privately-operated rail more than a generation ago. If heavy rail transit, ie GO trains, with their 1500 to 1800 seat capacity, ran up and down this line as often as possible during the morning and evening rush hours with reasonable fares for riders, and parking available at either end, and the highway is not upgraded, then a real green-shift can begin to take place, for a lower long term cost. Environmentalism, at its core, is an economic rather than philosophical argument.

Trucks are also heavy users of this highway. Our new industrial park at the south end of Guelph is expecting numerous new industries of various shapes and sizes. While the powers-that-be seem to have little interest in looking into it, this industrial park could be connected to the rail network as well as the road network. If there is enough traffic to warrant an expedited new $15.9 million interchange for all the trucks expected to arrive, there is enough traffic to warrant rail service to the industrial park. As each rail car can replace between 2 and 5 trucks, depending on what they are carrying, and trains are capable of running upward of 150 freight cars, a little rail service can go a long way toward reducing congestion, emissions, fuel costs, and labour costs for all the affected industries, residents, and taxpayers. If the railway right of way is funded the same way as the highways, there would be no economics in moving goods by trucks at all and the highway would not soon need upgrading on another count.

So, while Guelph will get its service road from Stone to Kortright, new interchanges, and new sections of Highway 6 to keep us driving just a little bit longer, real alternatives that could address long term transportation demands are being expressly ignored, sending us ever further around the vicious circle of building highways because of inadequate alternatives.

Posted at 08:53 on June 19, 2008

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