There are signs that our governments are finally ready to address Ontario’s rapidly overloading transport network.
So many people are moving to southern Ontario that there is a real risk of tremendous gridlock on the roads and aboard transit vehicles. Political and business leaders appear ready to co-operate in an unprecedented way — everyone from mega-profitable railway companies to small municipalities on the fringe of the GTA.
The catch? We’re likely to pay dearly for decades of paltry transport investment. Some expansion is now underway — especially new High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and extra tracks and bridges for GO Transit — but this is merely playing catchup.
The Golden Horseshoe is experiencing one of the most extensive growth spurts in North America because many of the other fundamentals are in place — such as health care, education and economic stability. But we have fallen so far behind on transport funding that the construction backlog is staggering.
Those responsible for the state of our rails and highways are at least talking together. Governments in Ottawa and Queen’s Park may be of different political parties, but they have created crucial new "Gateway" councils to advise them how to keep millions of trucks, cars, trains and buses moving.
The promise of these councils is that private sector and independent experts may be able to co-ordinate with government planners to design a network that truly fits together.
Add in the new regional transport agency, the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA), and in a few years we just might come up with a game plan that government and business players can sign on to. In the meantime, existing plans are piecemeal and too modest.
Because there is a rush to head off a congestion crisis, quite a few projects may go ahead before these bodies ever reach a long-term consensus. Several under-scrutinized transit projects are to be built where they are not really needed. Meanwhile, a great deal of sprawl development is expected to overwhelm the GTA road system.
Some politicians will still try to push through their pet projects using political muscle — making sure their plans avoid rigorous financial and planning study. That’s the way it’s always been and alas, there is no guarantee that any council or super-agency can alter this reality.
Big developers and public officials may make the real decisions behind closed doors, and while we all will reap the economic benefits of growth — our mobility could suffer dramatically.