Yorkregion.com
Adam Martin-Robbins

Sustainable Vaughan is stepping up its efforts to stop plans for a highway it sees as a potential threat to environmentally sensitive land in the city’s north end.

The group announced Thursday afternoon at the Woodbridge Village Farmers Market that it has joined Environmental Defence’s Come Clean campaign in a bid to raise awareness about the province’s plans for what will likely be a 400-series highway known as the GTA West Corridor.
The corridor is meant to ease future traffic flow between the rapidly growing communities stretching from Hwy. 400 in Vaughan to Guelph.
The Transportation Ministry has released the preliminary study area it is looking at to determine the best route for a future transportation corridor. The study area includes the Greenbelt in north Vaughan.
“For us, the concern is that it’s carving up the Greenbelt and it would potentially erode the significance of the Greenbelt,” Sustainable Vaughan co-director Sony Rai said against a backdrop of clotheslines bearing socks, shirts and sheets with the words Greenbelt and Green Energy Act scrawled on them, plus a quote attributed to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak calling the Greenbelt a “greenbotch”.
“We’re saying it’s infrastructure sprawl. So, if you keep allowing more road infrastructure through the Greenbelt you’ll erode its significance and the natural heritage that’s there,” Mr. Rai added. “What we’re trying to ask the province is where is the benefit of having this highway versus not building and developing the Greenbelt. We haven’t been shown any kind of cost benefit of building this or keeping the natural heritage intact.”
Environmental Defence also feels the province needs to take a hard look at other options before driving a highway through the Greenbelt.
“We need more time spent looking at the alternatives and the costs rather than cutting through the Greenbelt,” program manager Shiloh Bouvette said.

The organization’s Come Clean campaign was launched in February in partnership with a host of other groups. It challenges provincial politicians to state where they stand on a number of environmental issues such as protecting the Greenbelt, the Green Energy Act and a cosmetic pesticides ban.

Members of the public are invited to go online to comeclean.ca and check out what politicians are saying and sign on to a letter asking the leaders of the three major political parties to state their position on key environmental issues.

Sustainable Vaughan is hoping joining the campaign will help put the proposed highway corridor on the radar of local residents and politicians in the lead-up to the Oct. 6 provincial election.

“Right now, it’s mostly an awareness campaign because a lot of people in Vaughan are not aware of this proposed highway,” Mr. Rai said. “Right now, it’s just to inform citizens in the community about what’s being proposed and allow them to make their own decision about whether they want to support this or raise their voice against it.”

The group last week brought its concerns to Vaughan and York Region councils. It plans to continue working to raise awareness over the summer and will likely hold a town hall-style information session in Kleinburg, one of the communities that would be most heavily impacted by the proposed highway, Mr. Rai said.

Vaughan Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara said the current legislation allows roadways through the Greenbelt and it’s premature to exclude those lands from the corridor study area.

“I drive through the Greenbelt almost every day, and certainly once or twice a week, so we ought not to pretend that the Greenbelt doesn’t have road systems going through it,” he said. “The second thing to note is this is really just the beginning of a consultation process that is years and years away from resulting in the construction of a highway. So, at this point, I wouldn’t put any particular constraints on the consultation (process)…”

He also noted that while the province is looking at building an additional roadway, it has been making major investments in public transit projects.