MTO's obsolete Environmental Assessment Study

This was a modern highway when this Environmental Study was initiated

MTO is now only conducting a Class EA study.  This is not a new full EA study, but rather a continuation of the original, decades old, EA approved highway route.  This new study is essentially a detailed design of the route approved in the original 2002 EA Approval which was based on MTO’s 1997 Environmental Assessment Study. 

Class environmental assessment studies for new highways are only permitted under the Environmental Assessment Act where there is a pre-existing, inactive, but still valid, Environmental Assessment Approval for the project.  Given that the previous Liberal government abandoned this project, in or around 2006, it is likely the original EA approval is now invalid if for no other reason than MTO defaulted on the Conditions of Approval for this project.   However, under our current government, as we have seen with Ministerial Zoning Orders, if anything gets in their way, such as an out-dated EA Approval, they will enact retroactive legislation to “fix” the problem. 

Two MTO staff members gave a presentation to the March 18, 2021 York Region Council special meeting.  They provided presentations for both the Hwy 413 project and the Bradford Bypass.  They assured council that they would be following all statutory requirements and provide proper mitigation measures wherever appropriate.  When asked about the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks’ proposals to “streamline” the provisions of the Environmental Assessment Act for both the Bradford Bypass and Hwy 413, their response was essentially these are just proposals, “you will have to ask MOECP about these”.   Likewise when asked about the Ford government’s stated intention to start building bridges before completion of the studies currently underway, only an evasive answer was provided. 

MTO’s representatives appeared to alleviate the concerns of many councillors by assuring them that there would be ample opportunities for public consultation.  What MTO’s representatives did not say is that the consultation will be with respect to the design and mitigation measures they are proposing in their current study.  Major issues, such as Need and Justification for the project, Alternative Solutions and Study Areas will not be on the table because these were addressed in the original EAS nearly 24 years ago

What MTO refuses to acknowledge or even consider is that, over time, circumstances have changed.  There are now alternative solutions and public climate change policies that will likely overrule these decades old Need and Justification findings.  A key example is the Barrie Go Train now handles the bulk of the travel demand originally relied upon to satisfy the Need and Justification statements in the Bradford Bypass 1997 EAS. 

A fresh, unbiased, full environmental assessment for both projects is the only way to properly comply with the Environmental Assessment Act and satisfy Ontarians that whatever solutions are ultimately chosen and implemented, are indeed necessary and have the least possible negative impact on the environment.