Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford redoubled his support for another controversial highway project in the greater Toronto area that is mired in environmental concerns and uncertainty about its economic and social benefits.
Ford was in Caledon, Ontario, Wednesday for a campaign-style stop at the proposed 413 freeway site.
He touted the route as necessary to ease traffic congestion in the Halton, Peel and York regions, which he said are expected to grow in the coming years.
“We will deliver the much needed 413 highway,” Ford said. “Real action must be taken to fix what is broken.”
It was the second event of their progressive Conservative government this week in support of a planned highway in Toronto’s growing area, infrastructure they say will benefit commuters and the economy.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said Wednesday that Highway 413 and the Bradford Beltway will not be toll roads once completed.
It is unclear exactly when construction will begin. Public information sessions on Highway 413 will be held next month, and the government said indigenous communities and other residents will have more opportunities to have their say.
But the project has drawn criticism from political opponents and environmental advocates, who are concerned that it paves agricultural land and environmentally sensitive areas, including the protected Greenbelt.
The new Democrats and provincial liberals have said they will not move forward if elected next June.
Meanwhile, the former federal environment minister designated the highway for an impact assessment last spring, citing findings that it could have adverse effects on species at risk.
Ford shows its support for the controversial # Highway413 with a campaign-style road visit. #ONPoli #BradfordBypass
When asked Wednesday about the impact of the road on Greenbelt, which was created to protect environmentally sensitive land from development, Ford said his government considers it critical infrastructure.
“It is an absolutely critical highway that we need to build for the influx of immigration that we are going to see,” he said.
“What we have heard is that we desperately need this road and we are going to build it.”
He also accused previous governments of failing to address traffic congestion.
The Progressive Conservative government set aside $ 2.6 billion in its fall economic return for roads and bridges this year, including unspecified funds to advance Highway 413.
But the government has not provided full price tags for the projects, causing alarm among opposition politicians.
Ontario’s New Democrats on Wednesday asked the province’s auditor general to review the 413 Freeway and Bradford Bypass projects for complete financial estimates.
NDP financial critic Catherine Fife wrote in her letter to Bonnie Lysyk that she is concerned about the lack of transparency and whether the projects will mean cuts to other planned infrastructure.
He also noted concerns that the roads will benefit Ford allies and will not reduce commute times to the extent that the Ford government has claimed.
“I think Ontario people deserve to know exactly how these projects have been proposed and prioritized over so many major infrastructure investments this province desperately needs,” he wrote.
The Liberals also wrote to Lysyk asking for an investigation into recent government talks with managers of Highway 407, amid reports that the province did not request a toll reduction on that route.
The party and others argue that such a move would be another option to ease congestion without spending billions of dollars on 413.
Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the highway will not save commuters enough to justify creating more pollution and other environmental impacts.
“Highway 413 is a financial and climate disaster,” Schreiner said. “It must be canceled.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 10, 2021.