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Windsor-Essex Parkway spending creates envy in Toronto

By Dave Battagello
April 14, 2010

WINDSOR, Ont. — The McGuinty government's push to build the $1.6-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway is not sitting well with officials in Toronto in the wake of last month's decision to postpone $4 billion in GTA transit expansion.

"We wish Windsor all the best with the expressway and bridge expansion," said Toronto Coun. Joe Mihevc who is vice-chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission. "Torontonians will use that bridge for the movement of goods and trek to Florida on March break. It will provide a stronger economy for all of us."

But he said public transit must also be expanded.

"We are crazy with congestion and anybody from Windsor who comes here knows it's impossible to get around," he said. "Rather than either/or -- all parts of Ontario need to be treated fairly."

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates traffic congestion in Toronto costs the country more than $5 billion annually in lost productivity. A recent Board of Trade report showed Toronto, with an average total commute time of 80 minutes, ranked last among 19 global urban centres.

Finance minister Dwight Duncan revealed the government will postpone $4 billion in Toronto transit infrastructure spending -- out of a $9.3-billion overall plan -- over the next five years which may delay planned light-rail and other rapid transit line construction beyond 2020.

"They made three announcements this was coming," Mihevc said. "Now they talk about phasing it in and we can't see the wisdom of doing it. The light-rail (construction) will not solve the problem, just get us to hold our own.

"A lot of the vehicles stuck in congestion (in Toronto) are the ones headed to Detroit. They need to look at the big picture. What's good for Windsor, should also be good for Toronto. They need to find a strategy. We don't want the (transit) work to slow down in any way."

Adding a penny to the gas tax or taking funds from provincial sales tax to pay for GTA transit improvements are options that might be considered given the detrimental costs to the provincial and national economies, the councillor said.

A Toronto environmental activist was critical of the push to build more roads in Ontario at the expense of delaying dollars towards more environmentally friendly transit projects.

"There was no new money for operating transit and they are spending more on highway development," said Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "It speaks to the priorities of the government to put transit on the backburner and plow ahead with new highways.

"The party line is they are not cancelling, just delaying. But it's a 180 (degree) position they are taking from a few years ago when they were trumpeting transit as great for the environment. It's disappointing, for sure."

Kirkpatrick hinted politics may be at play with Duncan being from Windsor.

"I don't want to be cynical," he said. "I'm not going to say one infrastructure project is more important than the other. Transit is important to the public and environment. To put that on the backburner for another road project is unfortunate."

Duncan could not be reached Monday for comment.

But a spokeswoman, Alicia Johnston, said investments in the Windsor-Essex Parkway are "vital because they will improve the flow of people and goods and will create an estimated 12,000 project-related jobs, with the majority in the Windsor-Essex region."

She said almost $12 billion worth of Toronto transit projects are moving forward and none are being cancelled.

"We have said that some Metrolinx projects will have stretched out timelines in order to provide some cost savings as we recover from the global economic downturn," Johnston said.

As published here: http://www.windsorstar.com/opinion/blogs/Windsor+Essex+Parkway+spending+...

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