Interview with Kathryn McGarry

In my two-part series about highway construction over at TVOntario’s Campaign Tales website, I complained that I had great difficulty in getting in touch with the various candidates in the riding of Cambridge, particularly the Conservative incumbent Gerry Martiniuk and his Liberal challenger Kathryn McGarry.

After this article was posted, I was contacted by the Kathryn McGarry campaign office, eager to correct their oversight. Ms. McGarry herself contacted me over the phone on Sunday and we talked a bit about highways in Cambridge and North Dumfries. As the election is rapidly approaching, I think it’s only fair that I post Ms. McGarry’s comments here.

What is the Highway 424 Proposal?

“The proposal is not a 400 series highway. I know a fair bit about the discussions on transportation in Cambridge, having sat in on the Region’s transportation study as a voice for heritage conservation in the area. Over the past few years, I learned a lot about the topography of the area, about ring roads and the sources of congestion.

“The Highway 24 corridor proposal was identified in the Cambridge Area Route Selection Study as a ring road or bypass around the Cambridge area, and the need for that road was identified fairly hotly by Cambridge residents who felt there was a lot of congestion on Highway 24 through the city, especially in downtown Galt.

That study covered a lot of different concerns about traffic congestion, but we were able to treat environmentally sensitive areas and heritage districts with care. For instance, there were calls for dealing with the Shantz Hill light (at the time an unlit T-intersection at the base of a steep hill, between two major roads constrained by the local topography and a source of lengthy backups —jb). Some people said we needed a bypass, with another bridge over the Grand River, around the village of Blair, and past several significant wetlands, and I said, “why don’t you just put a stoplight on the intersection?” They came back at me and said that the intersection was at the bottom of a hill and trucks wouldn’t be able to stop and I said, “listen, I visited Wellington, New Zealand and it’s built on the side of a mountain and all of their intersections have lights.” Eventually, the light was installed instead of the Highway 8 bypass, and I think that worked well.

The study identified a number of interim solutions that could improve traffic flow on Highway 24 through the city, such as a grade separation for a busy railroad track near the Babcock and Wilcox plant. This project is due to go ahead in the next couple of years. But while these measures will help, there is still some call for some means to bypass downtown Galt.

Why Are There Demands for a Major Highway Along the Highway 24 Corridor?

“From what I understand, when they were looking at a 24 bypass, they’ve done some other studies around the area to see where some of the trips start from and end, to try and take some of the trucking firms and car trips off of the streets of downtown Galt, especially when many of these trucks are going from highway to highway.

“I have been involved in the process, reading about it and going to the public meetings, so I have some of the initial reports. I also sit on the municipal heritage committee for the Township of North Dumfries, and we’re looking at another bypass, along Trussler Road, connecting to Highway 401, which might be used instead of or in lieu of the Highway 24 bypass.

How Much of an Issue do you Believe this is with the Voters of Cambridge?

“This is a big issue with the community, not the bypass itself, but the wider issue of traffic congestion, environmental preservation and heritage preservation in Cambridge and North Dumfries. Indeed, at one public meeting at the Armenian Centre on Dunbar Street, we overfilled the hall, so we had to hastily move people into the parking lot and run to the music store across the street to set up extra audio visual equipment. However, the concerns vary depending on where you live.

“I spend a lot of my time working in Cambridge, but I live in North Dumfries. We have some concerns about environmental protection and heritage preservation, but I’m waiting to see what the environmental assessment has to say. Going door-to-door in Cambridge, I’d have to say that the only ones who are really talking about it, in terms of not liking the idea of having another road out there, are people living on the east side of Cambridge, who would be closest to that road. Other urban voters in Cambridge are worried about congestion and trucks barrelling through Downtown Cambridge. They worry about walking along the Galt Market, with the trucks so close. So it’s different in whichever area you live in.”

What is your Position on This and Other Area Highway Proposals?

“In terms of my position on it, I’m willing to wait and see what the environmental assessment has to say. I strongly favour environmental and heritage preservation and I know that when I look at the swath of land that they are studying, they’ll have to do the full assessment on what they’re doing and what the options are. I really think it’s interesting sitting where I do that the urban population wants to get the truck traffic off this road and the truckers want to be out of downtown Galt too.”

Thanks to the McGarry campaign for arranging time for me in Ms. McGarry’s busy schedule.

I also had the pleasure of speaking to Colin Carmichael, the Green Party candidate for Cambridge, and his responses can be found below:

Q. Mr. Carmichael, tell me a bit about the Highway 424 proposal in your own words: what is it, and where does it go? Which communities are affected, and why?

A. My understanding of the proposed Highway 424 is that it will run from the 401 in the Puslinch area south to the 403, crossing over Highway 8 in Flamborough, and passing near St. George.

Q. What do you see as the proposal’s biggest advantages and disadvantages, if any? What natural features are affected or threatened?

A. There are simply no advantages. Adding highway capacity will never resolve gridlock issues because new highways (and lane expansions) actually encourage people to drive more often which means that new highway capacity is always behind demand. There are numerous wetlands in or near the proposed path of the highway, as well as productive farmland. A bigger fear is the tendency for new highways to encourage urban sprawl which results in unwalkable, unsustainable communities tied to the highway.

Q. How much of an issue is the Highway 424 proposal for the voters of Cambridge? Are you encountering it as you go door-to-door? If not, why do you think that is?

A. The 424 proposal should be an important issue for all Ontarians because it is clear evidence that our current government thinks it can solve our transportation crisis by simply laying down more asphalt. I am not encountering the issue very often at all, but I often bring it up in the conversations I have as an example of poor planning and short-sightedness.

Q. This may be a question with an obvious answer, but does the Green Party favour this proposal? If not, what is the Green Party’s policy with regard to alternatives?

A. The Green Party does not support the creation of Highway 424. In fact, the Green Party has called for a near moratorium on new highway development until 2012. We will divert 75% of the funding away from new highways and invest it instead in public transit (ie: Grand River Transit) and inter-city transit. More highways = more cars = more gridlock. The only solution to reducing gridlock (not to mention automotive emissions) is to have less cars on the road - not more.

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