Ontario listens to ideas on how to plan development and infrastructure
August 22, 2001
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
The Ontario government has published the results of community consultations it held this spring to look at strategi...
The Ontario government has published the results of community consultations it held this spring to look at strategies for “Smart Growth.” Its Smart Growth program is meant to look at ways of promoting and managing growth in the province in sustainable and sound economic ways. Part of the work is to find ways to integrate decisions on development, infrastructure and the environment.
To elicit public response, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing held a series of day-long consultations across the province attended by members of the public, municipalities, community groups, industry associations etc. A task force of experts for the consultation process was assembled, and some of its members attended each stakeholder meeting and provided background information. Several consulting engineers were on the task force, including Doug Allingham of Totten Sims Hubicki, Whitby; Jack Gorrie of Stantec Consulting, Kitchener; Neal Irwin of the IBI Group, Toronto; and David Kriger of Delcan, Ottawa.
The Ministry has now produced a booklet that outlines the suggestions made in those consultations. It is called “Listening to Ontario, Ontario Smart Growth, A summary of Consultations,” and is available on the ministry’s web site, www.mah.gov.on.ca
Though there was no attempt to draw consensus or make recommendations, some ideas put forwarded were well supported in areas related to planning and infrastructure. Following are just some of the highlights.
Land use planning. It was generally agreed that clear objectives and criteria for making decisions were crucial. Participants suggested we should discourage urban sprawl by avoiding discontinuous or “leapfrog” development on unserviced land. Instead we should be ensuring that development approvals follow existing infrastructure commitments for roads, water mains, schools etc. Other participants suggested measures like “growth boundaries,” which would keep development within existing areas, or the opposite approach, drawing firm boundaries around specific areas to be protected from development.
There was criticism of the existing Ontario Municipal Board process. Many participants were concerned that municipal decisions regarding official plans, zoning by-laws and infrastructure master plans can be easily overturned by the OMB.
Most participants supported the province’s proposed legislation for brownfield site development, although it was recommended that the liability protection provisions should be strengthened. Some participants noted that the sites that needed development were not so much on contaminated industrial land, but rather on abandoned sites, old schools or vacant plazas, which means they nee different incentives to encourage redevelopment.
Other deputations pointed out that tax assessment policies were penalizing downtown development, and that fragmented and absentee ownership were hurting downtowns.
Transportation: Most of the participants agreed we must improve transportation alternatives between communities to avoid chronic congestion, though there were varying ideas on how this could be achieved. Most agreed that building highways on its own is not enough, and that transit must be part of growth strategy in congested areas and remote areas alike. This need is particular critical given that the population is aging and will require alternatives to driving.
Participants said there was a need for better coordination between jurisdictions, and suggested different ways to fund transit. Their ideas included having dedicated provincial or federal fuel taxes, direct funding, and allowing private firms to run shuttle buses or mini-vans on certain routes. Others suggested that existing rail lines could be re-opened for inter-regional transit.
Other participants felt that traffic congestion could be alleviated through travel demand management – e.g. policies to reduce rush hour peaks and to discourage commuting. Ideas here included having high-occupancy vehicle lanes and dedicated transit lanes on highways, as well as imposing tolls on more major highways. One suggestion made several times over was that highway rights-of-way should include space for rail lines as well.
About the same time as the above publication was issued, Ontario SuperBuild, the provincial government’s corporation set up in 1999 to oversee and manage the building of infrastructure issued the report: “Superbuild, Policies and Priorities.” This report outlines projections for infrastructure spending based on the Ontario Budget 2001.
In an accompanying letter, the agency pointed out that the Ministry of Transportation is reviewing financing possibilities associated with expanding Ontario’s 400 series highways, including tolling options. And, in another initiative, the government issued a request for proposals in May, inviting bids for advisory services to initiate the sale of 407 East Completion to Highways 35 and 115.
SuperBuild reports that the government will spend $250 million for inter-regional transit expansion in the Greater Toronto/Golden Horseshoe area. It will also spend $250 million for strategic infrastructure projects in eight urban areas: Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Windsor and the regions of Niagara and Waterloo, an amounts to be for transit expansion, environmental protection including water and sewer upgrades, and environmental remediation projects. Under the Ontario Small Town and Rural Developments (OSTAR), the government says it will be spending $500 million over the next five years on infrastructure and economic development. Already it has committed $240 million towards projects to comply with the new Drinking Water Protection regulation following the Walkerton disaster.