Brampton city council will vote on a motion Wednesday calling on the city to reverse its support of Highway 413 after months of trying and failing to get provincial support for its own development plans.
Council initially endorsed the controversial project, also called the GTA West Corridor, in 2019. But in 2020, the city released a report on a transit-oriented and green community concept called Heritage Heights, which has been in the works for years. Coun. Doug Whillans, who put forth the motion to "strongly oppose" Highway 413 in its entirety, says the Heritage Heights plan is incompatible with the Highway 413 project, according to the staff report
"I'm confident that this motion will go through on Wednesday. I'm just not sure how far it will go with the province," Whillans told CBC News.
The proposed highway would cost at least $6 billion and would follow a 59-kilometre route across the northwestern part of the GTA, linking the northern edge of Vaughan to where Mississauga, Brampton and Milton converge at the interchange of highways 401 and 407. Critics say the project would damage the environment and add to urban sprawl, but Premier Doug Ford's government says the highway will ease gridlock and cut commute times in a region that's growing fast.
Last year, Brampton requested that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) work with the city to incorporate its proposal for an urban boulevard in the ongoing Highway 413 environmental assessment study, and asked for MTO support of Brampton's planning for Heritage Heights.
"From the landowners to our city staff, we were all generally okay with the way they proposed it if we can incorporate our boulevard but it doesn't seem like [the province wants] to work with us on that," Whillans said in an interview.
Mississauga, Markham and Vaughan have already declared their opposition to the project.
"Now we're speaking against it … but I don't know what's going to happen there," Whilans added.
Environmentalists, business leaders clash
Divya Arora, a youth organizer for the David Suzuki Foundation and a Brampton resident, says she's relieved council is looking at reversing its support for Highway 413.
"I think Brampton is one of those communities that has had the privilege of sitting on the fence," said Arora. "When it came to the highway as a whole... I was unaware of what council's position [was]."
The foundation has been organizing for months to get the federal government to oppose the project, citing the need to protect Ontario's countryside, forests, farmland and species at risk. It says the highway would be a waste of funds that could be used for building public transit.
"It sends a really important message when a municipality that's as important and has multiple swing ridings like Brampton comes out against the highway," said Arora. "It sort of gets them thinking about what their voters really want."
However, Todd Letts, the CEO of the Brampton Board of Trade, says the highway is what a lot of Bramptonians want.
"I think the motion is premature, and I think it could be very damaging," said Letts.
"It's a direct attack on job security and opportunity for Brampton families. It's irresponsible because there's no other viable alternative that is being put forward to accommodate the growth we're seeing."
According to a Brampton Board of Trade 2021 report, constructing the GTA West Corridor will create between 6,300 and 8,000 jobs annually for five years.
"This highway will be using an intelligent transportation system, and the environment has been taken into consideration. [Like] with any large infrastructure project, there will be environmental concerns."
For real estate broker Palwinder Bains, the new highway means more housing, providing an opportunity for hot real estate markets like Brampton to bring real estate prices down.
"At present, it's not going to make any difference but in the future, for sure it is going to be more affordable because that north side is going to share the burden of [housing most] new immigrants," said Bains, a Brampton resident for more than seven years.
"And also, people who can't afford [to live in Brampton], they are going to move towards that side."
For Brampton resident Chris Bird, the potential for an easier commute is attractive. Each day, he makes the one-hour trek to York Region for work, using Hwy 400 and 427.
But after hearing critics say Highway 413 will damage the environment, make climate change worse, and disrupt farming and the greenbelt, he says he realizes the project won't actually solve long-term problems.
"Initially, things would get a lot better for the commuters out there like myself," Bird said.
"But eventually, I felt that this route would just become cluttered with trucks and cars and we'll be right back to where we started, with no new transit initiatives."