CALEDON, Ont. — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is reiterating its support for another controversial Greater Toronto Area highway project.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in Caledon, Ont., on Wednesday to show support for Highway 413, which he says will relieve traffic congestion in the regions of Halton, Peel and York.
It was his government’s second event this week in support of a planned highway in the growing Toronto area, infrastructure they argue will benefit commuters and the economy.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney says Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass will not be tolled roads once completed.
Public information sessions on Highway 413 will be held next month and the government says Indigenous communities and other residents will have more opportunities to give input.
But the project has drawn criticism from political opponents and environmental advocates, who are concerned it will pave over farmland and environmentally sensitive areas, including the protected Greenbelt.
The provincial New Democrats and Liberals have both said they will not go through with it if elected next June.
Meanwhile, the former federal environment minister designated the highway for an impact assessment last spring, citing findings that it could have adverse effects on species at risk.
When asked Wednesday about the highway's impact on the Greenbelt — which was created to protect environmentally sensitive land from development — Ford said his government considers it critical infrastructure.
"It's an absolute critical highway that we need to build for the influx of immigration that we're going to see," he said.
"What we've heard is we're in desperate need of this highway and we're going to build it."
He also accused previous governments of failing to tackle traffic congestion.
The Progressive Conservative government set aside $2.6 billion in its fall economic statement for highways and bridges this year, including unspecified funds to advance Highway 413.
But the government hasn't provided full price tags for the projects, drawing alarm from opposition politicians.
The Ontario New Democrats on Wednesday asked the province's auditor general to review the Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass projects in order to get full financial estimates.
NDP finance critic Catherine Fife wrote in her letter to Bonnie Lysyk that she's concerned over the lack of transparency and whether the projects will mean cuts to other planned infrastructure.
She also noted concerns that the highways will benefit Ford allies and not reduce commute times to the degree Ford's government has claimed.
"I believe Ontarians deserve to know exactly how these projects have been proposed and prioritized over so many important infrastructure investments this province desperately needs," she wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press