City Council decision on the Hanlon upgrades
It was a long night in Council's new chambers last night. The session lasted a full six hours, which I suspect gave most people the impression by the end that thy had always met in that room, even though it was the first meeting there since new City Hall opened. On the agenda was the construction of a new organic waste processing facility, upgrades to the Hanlon, approval of budgeting for money under a $135.5 million Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, and other topics that were ultimately deferred.
On the organic waste plant, also known as the 'wet plant,' several impassioned local residents rose to demand a full environmental assessment be done of the $26 million facility's construction. The small rural neighbourhood nearby the facility on the outskirts of town reported that the last, rather unsuccessful, such plant resulted in the deaths of four of the local residents from aneurisms as air and water quality were allegedly tainted by the facility.
Ultimately the new plant was approved by council without an EA and that project will be going forward over the next few years. I found it interesting in the lengthly discussion on this item that the City currently sends 8 trucks per week of organic waste to a Niagara Falls, New York incinerator to be burned. It perplexes me that so much of our waste leaves by truck when waste is by no means a high priority commodity, and the so-called "Waste Resource Innovation Centre", or our trash collection facility, is right next to the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway, albeit separated by a narrow river. Eight truckloads of trash is around two freight car loads of trash. Part of the plans for the new wet facility also include importing wet waste from nearby municipalities to process, which will also be done by truck. Were we to build a small rail spur into the Waste Resource Innovation Centre, we could both import and export our trash by rail at minimal environmental and economical impact rather than moving all the trash by truck, a vehicle designed for priority.
On the agenda, there was also another curious item: Guelph's distribution of money from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund. It breaks down like this:
- Organics Waste Processing Facility - $26.5 million
- Guelph Transit Terminal, Bridge Rehabilitation and Related Road works - $16.4 million
- Eastview Community Park and Pollinator Initiative - $7 million
- Civic Square Skating Rink/Water feature - $2 million
- Municipal Facility Rehabilitation, Energy Conservation Upgrades and Accessibility Improvements - $10.3 million
- Major and Minor Road Reconstruction - $17.1 million
- Norfolk: Norwich to Quebec Road Reconstruction - $5.4 million
- Sidewalk Rehabilitation - $3 million
- Parks Rehabilitation - $3.8 million
- Road Reconstruction Projects - $24.9 million
- Road Pavement Deficit - $5 million
- City Bridge and Structure Upgrades - $2.1 million
- New Sidewalk and Bicycle Lane Construction - $2.5 million
- Intersection Improvements - $6.2 million
- Storm Water Infrastructure - $2.3 million
- Railway Crossings - $1 million.
Road investment (6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14) $60.7 million
Walking/cycling investment (8, 13): $5.5 million
Transit/rail investment (2, 16): $17.4 million
That is $17.4 million for transit and rail projects, and $60.7 million for roads -- and that's counting rail/road crossing upgrades for rail. The $16.4 million for a Guelph Transit Terminal raises another whole host of issues, not least of which is that there is no evidence yet that Via Rail has actually agreed to have its station parking lot ripped out and turned into a bus/train interchange terminal. Even if it is, because Council elected not to save the Lafarge property as a park-and-ride, the project will devastate downtown parking no matter how many $30-$50,000/stall parking lots we build.
Anyway, in the context of all that happening, Council's other major decision last night was weather or not to support the Ministry of Transport of Ontario's recommendation to upgrade the Hanlon between Maltby Rd and Wellington.
Here is the text of my comments to Council on the topic:
Madam mayor, members of council,
What is our global vision for transportation?
While the Hanlon was being built in the early 1970s, the prevailing attitude was that any problem could be solved with another hunk of pavement. In 1974, while the Hanlon was under construction, a survey conducted by the City of Guelph asked industries, essentially: can you move away from trains and switch to trucks so that we can abandon most of the profitable Guelph Junction Railway? Surely our attitude has improved since that time.
The Hanlon was built to allow Guelph residents to bypass the downtown. Before the last section was even finished, Guelph had a save-the-downtown committee. This lesson is one we are continuing to fail to learn. The Hanlon already allows motorists to bypass Guelph's commercial centre, but its main purpose is to connect the different parts of Guelph to each other. Chopping out College and Claire, and making Kortright's Guelph-side access a residential service road, turns the Hanlon from an intra-Guelph highway to a Guelph bypass.
As importantly, we don't even know what the MTO has in store for the other half of the Hanlon, but we do know the highway is eventually intended to connect to Highway 6 south of Morriston, new Highway 7 north of Guelph, and we can safely assume it will connect to the GTA West project which still pretends to be something other than a highway project. These upgrades are not a project by, about, or for Guelph, but about finding a way around Guelph.
While the proposal before you went through extensive public consultation, the question asked was always: how should we upgrade the Hanlon. It was never: should we upgrade the Hanlon. It was never: where do we want to be in 20 years? We have no global vision for transportation.
If we go ahead and upgrade the Hanlon, we will see increased traffic volumes with better flow, pat ourselves on the back, and congratulate ourselves for planning for the future. If we do not, we will see increased congestion, and we will regret not doing the work. Why? Because that is the shallow view of the world we take, where highways are the answer but nobody knows the question.
There are four major highway projects currently ongoing in the vicinity of Guelph, of which the resolution before you covers only one quarter of one. If we divert the hundreds of millions of dollars of our money these highway projects will cost to mass transit, and give people a useful way to get around, we may start making headway.
Most of us probably drove to this meeting tonight. I, frankly, would rather not have. But parking downtown is free. Taking the bus, round trip, is $5, and takes approximately five times as long as driving, plus waiting. In all likelihood, the last bus will have left before I leave this meeting tonight. Counting generously, one out of every twenty trips in this city is done on a bus, and we are proud of the "five percent modal share" busses enjoy. We call it our goal, and we sleep well at night knowing that only ninety percent of people use their cars exclusively.
This evening's resolution includes a request to study further transit opportunities, but it does not go far enough. These have been studied over and over; what we need is actual investment in improved mass transportation opportunities for both passenger and freight, as part of a global vision for transportation that sets out how, not whether, we will move toward mass transit over the next decades.
While passenger trains have been largely relegated to the status of quaint tourist attraction, railway tracks parallel the Hanlon and Highway 6 from Guelph to Hamilton, where they continue parallel to the QEW all the way to the US border. Abandoned railway lines parallel Highway 6 north of Guelph all the way to Owen Sound. There is no reason for us not to invest in moving our people and goods on these economical, environmental railway lines, rather than once again upgrading our highways. These are just some of the options we can evaluate, but applying more band-aids to our highways should not be among them.
The auto industry does not have the money to fight transit projects at the moment. This is the time, as US President Barack Obama has figured out, to invest in mass transit, rather than highways. The Hanlon's time to upgrade has come and gone. Now is not the time to build bigger better overpasses at taxpayer expense, it is the time to come up with alternatives so that all of us can come to council meetings by public transit if we choose, with a reasonable expectation of being able to get home after, for less than the cost of driving.
Madam mayor and members of council, while the Hanlon was built forty years ago, the decision of whether to think like forty years ago or think about forty years from now rests in your hands for this small corner of the world. Do not approve this highway project until we have planned what we are really doing with transportation, not only to get us to the year 2031, but for the indefinite future, as time will not stop when our highways and our city reach their planned capacity.
I appeal to you to show the leadership that is needed in these times to formulate and implement our part of a true global vision for transportation.
Following my presentation, Councillor Piper asked me to expand on the construction cost difference between road and rail. I pointed out that Highway 7 will cost in the order of $30 million per kilometre to build, while rebuilding an abandoned railway line costs approximately $1M/km in each of parts and labour.
After hearing delegations for more than two hours, some in favour, more opposed, all with one problem or another with the plan, it was approved in a disappointing 12-1 vote, paving the way for one more albatross around the City of Guelph's neck and leaving me and many others scratching our heads about the vision our leadership claims to have.
Posted at 07:20 on April 28, 2009
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