December 4-11, 2006

Transportation study forecasts adverse environmental impacts of growing traffic congestion

By 2031, based on the province's growth policy, the city of Toronto can expect an additional 100,000 cars on its roads and another 50,000 people riding its public transit system during the peak morning commute, says a group of experts commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO).

The group's report, Transportation Challenges in the Greater Toronto Area Transportation Challenges in the Greater Toronto Area, concludes that other areas of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will also see increasingly severe traffic congestion as government investment in transportation fails to keep pace with the continuing growth in population. For example, it is projected that there will be an additional 146,000 peak morning commuters in Markham, 80,000 in Vaughan, and 154,000 in Brampton over the same period.

The report warns that, unless action is taken soon, the GTA will become increasingly uncompetitive, residents' standard of living will decline, and the environmental impacts of traffic snarls and overburdened transit systems will grow worse. With more than eight million people expected to be living in the GTA in 25 years, the municipal governments do not have the financial capacity to meet the demand. Nor is there a comprehensive plan in place to address the issues.

Moreover, the report's authors acknowledge that even this bleak picture of gridlock might be underestimating the seriousness of the situation. Their study is based on the population density forecasts contained in the province's Places To Grow policy - forecasts that assume people will choose high-density communities and public transit over suburban homes and automobiles, changing their lifestyles in ways that do not reflect past behaviour.

"If Places To Grow is not realized and growth continues to evolve, more or less, as it has over the last 10 to 30 years or so, the transportation-related challenges will become even more acute and will occur sooner," said Richard Soberman, the lead author of the report.

"Planning for transportation within the GTA has typically been characterized by numerous announcements and relatively few accomplishments. Our collective ability to 'get things done' appears to be on the decline," the report notes.

Among other recommendations, the report says:

*The development of a comprehensive transportation plan for the GTA should be the first order of business for the new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA).

*The provincial government should streamline the environmental assessment (EA) process to reduce costs and accelerate decision-making. The EA process, says the Alliance, has become "one of the surest means of ensuring that nothing gets done."

*The provincial government should put regulations in place ensuring that the GTTA is governed by non-elected individuals so that it can make decisions based on long-term needs rather than short-term political considerations.

*Municipalities within the GTA should give more serious consideration to public-private partnerships in order to expand transportation infrastructure at lower cost.

Contributors to the study included Richard Soberman, David Crowley, Harold Dalkie, Peter Dalton, Stephen Karakatsanis, Ed Levy, Thomas McCormack, and Jack Vance.

The RCCAO represents labour and management interests in the low-rise, high-rise and civil construction sectors. More information is available from RCCAO executive director Andy Manahan, 905/760-7777.

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