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This week the government of Ontario cancelled the controversial $6 billion Niagara to Toronto freeway. A broad coalition of groups vigorously opposed the highway across the Niagara escarpment, and pushed for investment in transit and freight rail instead.
“We need to fully fund Metrolinx, the regional transit program. We need to use realistic population growth and oil price estimates,” said Geoff Brock, of the Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition “We need to consider rail alternatives for freight that are being overlooked by the MTO, because rail is a federal responsibility and the two governments are not co-ordinated.”
It is hard to say when a freeway or road building project is dead. They have a bad habit of emerging from the grave. But it seems that the tide is turning against road building. In BC, Transport Minister Blair Lekstrom recently confirmed that the North Fraser Perimeter Road project in Metro Vancouver is dead and buried. TransLink, the regional transportation authority largely controlled by Lekstrom, also recently cancelled a smaller roadway widening, the Murray-Clark Connector.
In Montreal, residents have been pushing hard to ensure that the Turcot Interchange, a rebuild of a 1960s freeway project, does not suck up billions from the public purse and bulldoze hundreds of units of rental housing. In June, a 1950s themed demonstration featuring classic cars and retro costumes made the point that times have changed and what was fashionable in the middle of the last century looks kind of silly given peak oil and climate change. Mobilisation Turcot calls for “a 21st century solution, which takes into account our planet, our future and our health.”
In British Columbia, opposition to the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) freeway continues, inspired by the recent victories over the North Fraser Perimeter Road and Murray-Clark Connector. The SFPR is a controversial $1.5 billion proposal for a freeway crossing some of Canada’s most productive farm land along the banks of the Fraser River, one of Canada’s most important salmon rivers.
Starting on Mother Earth Day activists from around Metro Vancouver camped out in an action organized by StopThePave.org and the Council of Canadians and blocked a SFPR construction site for two weeks, posting a large banner on the fence reading “Freeways = Climate Crime”. But much of the opposition in recent weeks relates to the governments proposal to pave over a 9000 year old indigenous village and grave site, a heritage site thousands of years older than the pyramids of Egypt.
“This is the destruction of our past and future, and has to be stopped,” said William Burnstick, of the Cree Sioux First nations who is participating in a lawsuit to protect the archaeological site. “A society that paves over its history and pollutes the planet has no future.”
The historical moment is right to put an end to 1950s style freeways, and shift investments to low-carbon transportation such as electric public transit and trains. The price of oil is high despite the global economic woes that have constrained consumption. And climate change has become a present crisis rather than a problem for future generations. In recent weeks, extreme heat, part of a trend of increasingly dangerous heat waves due to global warming, has been blamed for 10 deaths in Montreal alone. But the current drought and famine in East Africa is also likely linked to global warming.
So far only two national organizations seem to be actively working to shift spending from blacktop to green transportation. (But please let me know if there are more!). So far the Wilderness Committee has focused their efforts in BC, including co-publishing the recent Transportation Transformation report which I co-authored. The Council of Canadians is however making transportation a key element of their System Change, Not Climate Change campaign which will launch in September.
Local battles against each freeway proposal are largely still that, isolated struggles without a larger network of support or a vision of what could be achieved by shifting billions from blacktop to public transit, cycling infrastructure, passenger trains and low-carbon freight movement.
As a first step towards building a network of freeway fighters, StopThePave.org will be hosting a page linking local groups across the country. If you know of a group working to shift spending from blacktop to low-carbon transport please let us know at www.stopthepave.org/contact