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LETTER: Use 407 golden corridor to profitably save Greenbelt

Rather than build controversial Highway 413, there's a solution using Highway 407 that would preserve Greenbelt lands, reduce sprawl, improve the transit network, and add billions to provincial coffers, letter writer says

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The debate over expanding the Greater Toronto urban footprint into prime agricultural land and into the Greenbelt continues unabated.  A key part of this expansion is the province’s controversial plan to construct Highway 413 — a $4-billion+ expressway between Vaughan and Milton. The province justifies these plans due to anticipated large population increases in the area and the need to provide transportation infrastructure for people and goods. 

There is a much better solution, originally proposed by Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones. The solution is right in our back yard — the Highway 407 corridor. This wide corridor is almost entirely provincially owned and is occupied by Highway 407, several high voltage transmission lines, storm water ponds and underground pipelines. 

The 407 solution has several components:

  • Use provincial funds to provide a toll discount for trucks on the 407 rather than build the 413. This idea was originally recommended by an expert panel convened by the previous provincial government.  Analysis has shown that this is substantially more cost effective than constructing and maintaining a new expressway. And the 407 is more conveniently located for most freight truck movement.
  • Bury the high voltage lines in the corridor to open up two thousand hectares of provincially owned developable land in the 102 kilometres between Milton and Oshawa. There are many examples across the world where such lines are located in tunnels or ductbanks. For example, Siemens has a technology known as gas insulated transmission lines, in which the lines are put into gas-filled pipes. Undergrounding the lines also increases safety and reduces electromagnetic fields. Instead of a hydro corridor 200-metres wide, there would then be a tunnel less than 10-m wide. We estimate capital costs to bury the lines to be $5 billion, but this would generate $25 billion of land value for development, which would go straight into provincial coffers. The province also has the opportunity to enter into a unique long-term public-private partnership with developers, potentially leading to better complete communities and additional provincial revenue. 
  • Construct a series of new complete communities across the corridor at key arterial road and transit intersection points, such as with GO Transit, TTC subway or LRT/BRT. Our conceptual plan suggests about 40 communities, holding more than one million people and jobs at full buildout. These communities would be largely self sufficient, with jobs, commercial uses and public amenities, including parkland linkages to adjacent communities.  
  • Link the communities to each other with a new crosstown higher order transit line running in the 407 Transitway protected corridor, connecting to the balance of the radial rapid transit network. The province has already proposed this "East-West Cross-Regional Connector” in its recently released Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan. 

This 407 solution preserves precious agricultural, Greenbelt and natural lands, reduces the pressure for urban sprawl, improves our transit network and adds billions to provincial coffers.  It warrants a serious study. 

Peter Miasek