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LETTER: Bradford Bypass announcement about 90% propaganda

'From our perspective, the only Ontarians the province is listening to about the Bradford Bypass are developers,' writes chair of Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces
Bradford Mayor James Leduc spoke at an announcement that the province has awarded a $16-million contract to AECOM for the detailed design of the western 6.5-kilometre portion of the Bradford Bypass route from Highway 400 to County Road 4 (Yonge Street), at a construction site on that street just north of Line 8 on Thursday morning, May 9.

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Re: Significant project: Bradford Bypass moves step closer to reality, May 9, 2024.

The province proudly announced that it has awarded a detailed design contract for the western portion of the Bradford Bypass. We find this most surprising since they are still addressing serious archaeological and groundwater issues in the adjacent central segment of this proposed highway.

This announcement is about 90 per cent propaganda and 10 per cent meaningful fact. The only facts that were announced were the $16-million cost to design the western 6.5 kilometre portion of this 16-km highway and the name of the contractor, who not surprisingly, is the same contractor that has worked on this project since 2019.

This is the easy section of the highway from an environmental perspective. The central portion will be significantly more difficult. One has to question why they have only contracted for the easy portion of the highway at this time. What are they not telling us about the rest of this planned highway? Presumably its cost is the most significant factor. We still have no idea of the construction cost for any part of this highway.

It is also purposefully dishonest for our politicians to try to downplay the impacts of this highway by referring to it as a four-lane highway as they did in yesterday’s announcement. We have already been informed that the highway is being planned as an eight-lane structure. This will significantly increase its total cost, environmental and human impact. If this propaganda is what "get it done" means, Ontarians should have no part of it.

The Bradford Bypass is a blatant misuse of scarce government funds. This highway received environmental assessment (EA) approval in 2002 on the explicit basis that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) would only address solutions within its mandate for serving long-distance travel. “The appropriate municipal government, not the Province, is responsible for intra-municipal transportation.” At that time, MTO’s stated policy was to not mix local with long distance travel.

The Environmental Assessment Act requires proof of both the need for the highway and justification that the proposed solution is warranted. The solution must be the least environmentally intrusive option after all reasonable alternatives have been evaluated.

The 1997 EA study was done for policy reasons to protect a highway corridor for an anticipated future highway. A highway of that magnitude was not needed at that time. Hence, reasonable alternatives, other than four-lane, controlled-access highways, were not considered in the 1997 Study. To satisfy the EA Act, the 2002 EA approval included a condition that required MTO to undertake a Class EA Study prior to building the highway. That study was initiated in 2019.

A Class EA Study specifically requires an update of the need for the highway, the current natural environment and a fresh study of all reasonable alternatives. These alternatives must include, alternative means of satisfying the demand, such as the Barrie Go Transit train, as well as two regional, municipal and private roads and all reasonable combinations thereof. In response to our request for these updated studies, the province issued its Exemption Regulation in October 2021. This regulation confirms the 2002 EA approval but removes the requirement for the Class EA Study.

Connection of Ravenshoe Road to Simcoe Line 13, and Queensville Sideroad to Bradford’s 8th Line via Hochreiter Road and Bathurst Street are such reasonable alternatives. York Region and Simcoe County want the Bradford Bypass so they don’t have to pay for the required bridges over the Holland River. If the province would pay for two regional road class bridges over the Holland River the Bradford Bypass would no longer be required thus freeing up some $3 billion to $3.5 billion.

Absent these reasonable alternative studies, this highway violates the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. Infrastructure such as this is only allowed if there is no reasonable alternative. Also absent is an Impact Assessment of the long-term impact of this highway on Lake Simcoe. Not only is this required by the Act, it has been formally requested by nine local municipal councils to no avail. Currently, the lake is projected to reach critical sodium (road salt) concentrations within 37 years. This timeframe will be dramatically shortened as a result of the salt runoff from the eight-lane Bradford Bypass.

So, we are now at the point where we will be expending some $4 billion or more to build a 16 km, eight-lane highway with seven interchanges to serve local traffic. The government’s current justification for this highway is: “Building the Bradford Bypass is necessary to relieve existing congestion on local east-west local roads and to address the expected long-term travel demand in the area”. Nowhere is long distance travel even mentioned.

Why should all Ontarians pay $4 billion to support unsustainable sprawl development in Bradford and Queensville? This money can be much better spent on health care, education and old age support systems. Premier Doug Ford says he is listening to Ontarians, some 70 per cent of which see the Bradford Bypass as a misuse of government funds. From our perspective, the only Ontarians the province is listening to about the Bradford Bypass are developers. This has all the makings of yet another a “developer friendly” Greenbelt scandal.

Bill Foster
Chair, Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces