MTO's Long-range Transportation Planning Not Open to the Public
As part of its mandate, MTO regularly carries out long-range planning exercises in which the ministry forecasts regional transportation needs and priorities for a 30-year horizon. This work includes evaluating future travel demands, roadway alternatives and alternative modes of transportation. The ministry also identifies broad corridors for future transportation infrastructure, and considers either using new corridors or expanding existing corridors, guided by environmental and other constraints. This planning phase precedes more focused construction projects, which then become subject to the Environmental Assessment Act. MTO's early planning work clearly has a strong environmental significance, as well as high public interest, and therefore would be highly appropriate information to share with the public through the Environmental Registry. Highways have major environmental impacts, during both their construction and their normal use, and the placement of highway corridors has always been controversial for communities. For example, in recent years, citizens' groups have raised concerns about the construction of Highway 407 across the north of the GTA, the proposed Red Hill Creek expressway in Hamilton, and a proposed new highway between Kitchener and Guelph. It is important that Ontarians be able to discuss potential transportation projects, as well as their alternatives, at the earliest stages of planning, prior to the very focused review of specific construction projects under the Environmental Assessment Act. MTO has repeatedly assured the ECO that the ministry is committed to using the Environmental Registry. For example, in early 2000, MTO reported to the ECO that:
- "Consultation on ministry undertakings will be broad-based involving not only stakeholders but the public, and will be early in the planning process. . . . MTO fully recognizes the important linkages between transportation, land use and the environment. This relationship is incorporated within all of MTO's planning endeavours . . . For proposals subject to the EBR, MTO is committed to maximizing the benefits of the tools provided by the legislation to achieve a cost effective way to inform Ontarians and invite feedback . . . MTO continues to make every effort to incorporate the letter and spirit of the EBR through all of its core business activities."
However, despite these stated commitments, MTO has not used the Environmental Registry to consult with the public on its long-range transportation planning work. Since April 1995, when MTO became subject to the posting requirements of the EBR, the ministry has posted only one proposal on the Registry for a long- range regional planning study. Entitled the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Perspective, this proposal was posted in April 1996, but MTO waited for four and a half years to post a decision on the proposal. The decision notice provided virtually no information: it was a mere two sentences long and did not describe the ministry's next steps. No final reports are available to the public regarding this work, even though MTO's 1999/2000 Business Plan listed among its achievements that a draft report had been completed for this study. In late 2000, the ECO learned that MTO had made an internal decision not to post on the Registry any other regional long-range planning studies – or "Needs Assessments," as the ministry now calls them. Such Needs Assessments are constantly under way. For example, an Eastern Region study was in progress in 1999/2000 and a Niagara Peninsula study was announced in March 2000.
The ECO encouraged the ministry to reconsider, and to post all such Needs Assessments on the Registry as
policy proposals with public comment opportunities. The ministry adopted a compromise approach and committed in June 2001 to posting all future Needs Assessments on the Registry as information notices. The ministry also committed to releasing the findings from all Needs Assessment studies for public review and comment. While this approach will help to update the public on the ministry's decision-making, it does not actively engage the public in that decision-making – an important distinction. For a more detailed explanation of
why information postings are weaker than proposal postings under the EBR, please see pages 37-39
(Information Notices). It is also not clear whether previously completed Needs Assessments will be published.
|This is an article from the 2000/01 Annual Report to the Legislature from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.|
Citing This Article
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2001. "Transportation and Land Use Planning for the GTA." Having Regard, ECO Annual Report, 2000-01. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 60-61.