For the Welland Tribune: by Adam Shoalts
For the past six years there has been talk of inflicting another scar upon Niagara’s landscape in the form of a major new highway.
This proposed highway, known variously as the mid-peninsula corridor or the Niagara to GTA transportation corridor, has from the start faced stiff opposition from environmentalists.
Indisputably, a four-lane highway along the lines of the current Queen Elizabeth Way would be detrimental to Niagara’s natural environment.
Wildlife movements would be severely restricted, woodlots would be sliced in two, and of course air quality would deteriorate as a result of the increase in fossil fuels via vehicles.
More specifically, environmentalists have rasied concerns that a new highway would further endanger the already beleaguered Niagara Escarpment.
The fact that in 1990 UNESCO designated the escarpment a World Biosphere Reserve in recognition of its ecological uniqueness is no guarantee that a four-lane highway will not cross it.
To permit a major highway to cut across this ridge of greenery would be a terrible shame. The escarpment’s current role as a wildlife corridor would be put in serious jeopardy, not to mention the ruinous effects on the natural beauty of the area.
Additionally, any creation of a mega-highway through Niagara’s countryside would shatter rural peace and quiet, and radically transform the surrounding area.
As of yet, no definite route for a highway has been determined. However, it is believed any route would traverse southern Niagara, including Wainfleet and Lincoln.
It is hard to conceive that anyone currently living in these rural areas could desire a noisy mega-highway running through their backyards. And of course, a major highway would cause neighbouring residential property values to plunge.
Nor is it at all logical, in light of a little problem called global warming, to be contemplating the construction of another highway.
After all, shouldn’t the provincial government (and all other levels of government for that matter) be doing everything possible to encourage people to drive less and instead rely more on public transport?
Certainly, constructing four-lane highways would seem like a major step backwards in the fight against climate change.
Even if one were to cast aside all environmental, aesthetic, and human concerns, there are still strong economic grounds to oppose the idea of constructing a highway.
The whole basis for establishing another highway linking the Greater Toronto Area to Niagara and Buffalo revolves around the rather dubious assumption that highway traffic is going to increase or at least remain at current levels.
However, for this to happen a steady supply of affordable oil is required, and with inexorably rising gas prices it appears the era of cheap oil is over.
High gas prices are a result of increasing demand in developing nations, particularly China and India. As such, it is not something that is likely to change.
Even more importantly, world oil production is inevitably going to peak, which will probably occur within the next couple of decades at the latest. (See Robert L. Hirsch et al., “Peaking Oil Production: Sooner Rather Than Later?, Issues in Science and Technology 21(3) .)
Accordingly, as the world’s oil reserves are depleted, gas prices will skyrocket to a point where the average Canadian can no longer afford to fuel up regularly.
It is therefore apparent that people will be driving vehicles less, not more, in the not-too-distant future.
Claims that biofuels can supply the solution to the world’s oil supply crisis are pure fantasy.
Repeated studies have proven that the production of biofuels actually necessitates the expenditure of more energy than is worth the effort. (See Marcelo E. Dias de Oliveria et al., “Ethanol as Fuel: Energy, Carbon Dioxide Balances, and Ecological Footprint.” Bioscience 55, July 2005.)
Furthermore, with oil prices rising transport-trucking will rapidly become uneconomical, resulting in a greater reliance upon shipping by rail and canal.
Without transport trucks on the roads, and with fewer vehicles in general, the construction of new mega-highways becomes utterly unnecessary.
So why should we invest millions in the construction of a major new highway, and burden future generations with something that in all probability won’t be needed?
Fortunately, the provincial government has proceeded at a snail’s pace on this issue, and has thankfully not yet ruled out constructing rail services as an alternative to a highway.
If the reader, like me, does not want to see this highway built, I urge you to visit www.niagara-gta.com and submit your concerns to the Niagara-GTA Corridor environmental assessment committee, or write to your member of provincial parliament.