The proposed Highway 413 perfectly represents the Province of Ontario’s lack of priority for the environment and climate change. Highway 413 showcases a continued focus on transportation by car, over people and the environment, which will have major impacts on our future for years to come.
At a time of rapid global warming and climate change, the privatization of land for highways (which only adds more cars and traffic) is the opposite of what is needed from our leadership.
Highway 413 is a proposed 60-km highway that would connect Milton from the 401 to Vaughan, ending at Highway 400. As with all highways, the 413 would come at the cost of the environment. Destroying around 2,000 acres of farmland, 85 waterways and nearly 4000 acres of protected Greenbelt land in the Vaughan region. On top of that, according to EcoJustice, the proposed highway would mean destroying as many as 75 wetlands and forests totalling six kilometres as well as paving through the Nashville Conservation Reserve.
For a highway meant to tackle a growing population and increased levels of motor traffic, research released by Environmental Defence states that if Highway 413 is built, it could lead to 14.7 million extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 2050. Afterall, more highways means more cars and traffic.
The Highway was initially scrapped in 2018 by Ontario’s former government, as dozens of scientists cited “significant concerns about the highway’s impact on biodiversity and the increased greenhouse gas emissions it will foster”. More recently, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson stated that there are “clear areas of federal concern” regarding the species at risk in the area. Most notably, the Western chorus frogs, the red-headed woodpecker and the rapids clubtails (a species of dragonfly). Despite this, plans for Highway 413 were revived by the current government.
At present, the Federal Government is conducting an Environmental Assessment, which will include fieldwork and consultation with conservation authorities. The final report is expected to go to the Environmental Ministry in late 2022.
But this may or may not be enough.
As we’ve seen countless times, the province’s ongoing commitment to profit over people and the environment. With arguments of urban sprawl, habitat loss, Greenbelt infiltration and climate change often falling on deaf ears of those in power.
What’s the alternative?
Firstly, the Province of Ontario should explore alternative ways to meet its population growth targets through a combination of policies that will increase densification in existing urban centres, while reserving lands for the Greenbelt and local food production.
Urban areas need a policy framework that will encourage “complete communities”, that have access to local services and employment all within a distance that supports public and active transportation. The adoption of a framework that focuses on policies that support this would have major impacts on the environment, emission levels, the protection of greenspaces and wetlands and accessibility. It is also important for the framework to increase overall building energy efficiency, while addressing affordable housing.
Once this policy is established, the regional transportation network can be efficiently designed to allow for the movement of goods and inter-regional transit.
As it stands, the current provincial plan focuses on building limited access highways such as the 413 and the Bradford By-pass that will open the Greenbelt up for urban sprawl-type development. This land-use plan is not sustainable for our future.
Stopping the construction of the 413 is the main objective. The proposed highway will jeopardize acres of the Greenbelt, farmland, forests, and wetlands. As well as the habitats and species that reside there. It will only add to motor traffic, while leading to millions of extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, the root of the issue remains the province’s plans to meet its objectives under the Ontario Growth Plan. We need a shift in the way we think about growth, development and transportation.
When will we start prioritizing people and the environment? When will those in power take strong actions to protect our future? These are the questions we need addressed, not only in this year's Federal Election, but in the years to come at every level.
If you are interested in having your input heard, the project will be holding its next public meeting on September 29, 2021 from 6:00-8:00PM (EST). Additionally, you can provide feedback at any time by contacting their Project Team here. You can access the Zoom registration link and find out more by visiting their website here.
You can read more about the Regional Transportation Plan here.