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Mike Harris's big plan.

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  • Ronald Dawson
    From http://www.scstandard.com/news/010626/5008815.html Dawson Mid-peninsula highway gets Harris s nod Need demonstrated, now project intended to relieve QEW
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 27, 2001
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      From http://www.scstandard.com/news/010626/5008815.html Dawson

      Mid-peninsula highway gets Harris's nod

      Need demonstrated, now project intended to relieve QEW congestion while
      protecting tender-fruit lands will undergo an environmental assessment
      Kalvin Reid

      The Standard June 26, 2001

      It was symbolic, from the location to the backdrop.

      Standing on what was once good grape land in the parking lot of a hotel
      owned by a winery as traffic zipped by on the QEW through Grimsby, Premier
      Mike Harris announced Monday a new mid-peninsula highway will be built
      through Niagara's southern tier.

      The long-awaited highway is expected to ease congestion on the QEW while
      adding a sense of protection to Niagara's unique grape and tender-fruit
      lands squashed between the escarpment and Lake Ontario.

      "We were faced with additional highway capacity being required," Harris said
      outside the Kittling Ridge Inn. "The two options really were an expansion
      and considerable widening of the QEW from six to eight lanes.

      "This was viewed as not a smart alternative because it infringed
      significantly on tender-fruit lands and very valuable areas of the whole
      Niagara region. So the alternative that was selected was the mid-peninsula
      corridor."

      The highway recommendation was the key component of the Niagara Peninsula
      Transportation Needs Assessment Study released by the province Monday at a
      small ceremony attended by many local mayors, business interests and the
      media.

      The release of the study began the year-long process of drafting the terms
      of reference for the environmental assessment that has to be completed
      before engineering and construction can begin. It is hoped the $1.3-billion
      highway can be completed within six to eight years, Harris said.

      "A project of this magnitude and this size has taken in the area of a
      decade," he told reporters. "We believe we can do it a lot faster than
      that."

      "We're of the opinion that this highway is needed sooner, not later. The
      economic benefits, to the region in particular but to the province as a
      whole, dictates we should be moving quicker."

      Initiated last March with a $500,000 price tag, the transportation report
      was intended to look at all aspects of Niagara's transportation needs and
      make recommendations for future direction.

      Called the most comprehensive report ever done in Ontario by Transportation
      Minister Brad Clark, the study also recommends further review of passenger
      rail and express bus service, inter-regional transit linkages and ferry
      service.

      The MPP for Stoney Creek and Grimsby, Clark said the preservation of Niagara
      tender-fruit lands was a key element of the study's conclusions.

      "Traffic volumes now show very clearly there is a need for four additional
      lanes for capacity. Question it came down to is where do we put those four
      lanes?" he said. "Do we do environmental damage by quite literally paving
      over Niagara's tender-fruit lands or do we look at another corridor? The
      report very clearly states the need is to look at another corridor."

      The study's recommendations were welcomed by Niagara Region Chair Debbie
      Zimmerman and Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey, two of the more vocal
      proponents of the proposed roadway.

      Niagara Region contributed $125,000 towards the completion of the report.

      "We've been pushing this for such a long time as an alternative to widening
      the QEW," Zimmerman said. "We've said that gridlock on the QEW is not going
      to get any less by adding more lanes.

      "The corridor is a great alternative."

      The needs assessment also recommends completion of Highway 406 through
      Welland, providing a link from the proposed highway to the QEW.

      "There is no question that this is critical for Niagara, especially the
      southern tier of Niagara," Badawey said. "Not only the mid-peninsula
      corridor, but the commitment to follow through with the 406 extension is
      great news.

      "This is something the city of Port Colborne has been waiting for for 30
      years."

      Preliminary designs sketch a route cutting off the QEW near Fort Erie and
      heading west between Welland and Port Colborne. The highway will pass south
      of Hamilton near Hamilton International Airport before hooking around the
      head of the lake and connecting with Highway 407 in the Burlington area.

      Like the 407, there is a chance the mid-peninsula highway will be a toll
      route.

      "Certainly we will be looking at whether it ought to be user-pay or whether
      it should be funded by general taxpayers or whether it is both, a
      combination," Harris said. "I don't want to rule anything out. We are
      looking at private sector involvement at various stages to see if we can
      accelerate this process."

      The prospect of a toll road concerns CAA Niagara president John Sherwin.

      Although he is supportive of the overall concept of the mid-peninsula
      corridor, he said tolls will not pull truck traffic off the QEW and onto the
      new highway.

      "Tolls increase their costs and a lot of small companies can't afford that,"
      Sherwin said. "The province collects more than enough taxes from motorists
      to support a new highway."

      After the environmental assessment is completed, the project will move to an
      environmental study report for design and property acquisition before
      applying for the necessary permits and beginning construction.

      Erie-Lincoln MPP Tim Hudak, the minister of tourism, culture and recreation,
      said Monday's announcement was the biggest news in the area in a generation.

      "The new mid-peninsula corridor is going to be a major artery to pump jobs,
      tourism and trade into Niagara region," he said. "I don't want to wait for
      those jobs any longer than I have to."

      The highway announcement has also raised the question of increasing the
      capacity at the Peace Bridge. While there has been some movement on
      completing the necessary environmental studies, there has been no
      confirmation of a design or work schedule.

      "We're working on this side of the border," Harris said. "The idea is to
      have them both open at the same time."

      At an economic summit with Harris Monday night in Niagara Falls, New York
      Governor George Pataki was optimistic the bridge would be completed with the
      highway.

      "I would like to see it built tomorrow, but obviously they have to go
      through the processes of both the province and the state to deal with the
      environmental assessments," he said.
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