Improvements in net economic development, municipal taxes, road congestion, and air quality helped sell this project and need to be verified or refuted.
By Ted Mitchell
Published November 27, 2007
On November 20, the Spectator published my letter to the editor on testing the positive claims about the Red Hill Valley Parkway against actual results. The subject deserves a more detailed treatment.
It is important to avoid framing the history of the Red Hill Creek Expressway (RHCE) debate as simply "progress versus environment". Although I am firmly an environmentalist, I think the story of this highway destroying the valley is overstated and diverts us from the real issue.
As for the real beneficiaries, The Spec also published Ken Stone's letter, "Red Hill parkway winners and losers", and he makes good points, namely, cui bono? I think that the average Hamiltonian is resigned that big pavers and developers will take an excessively big chunk of pie, and that's just a fact of life.
My real point is this: in the interests of honesty and to avoid future mistakes it is much more useful to frame the debate as "real progress versus the impression of progress". I assert that we were sold a bill of goods.
You will notice that the big name proponents of the expressway often adopt a tone of preaching (e.g. Larry Di Ianni's numerous quotes in the Nov. 16 Spectator) or demonizing opponents for impeding progress (Jack MacDonald's particularly resentful opinions also in the Nov. 16 Spectator). These high profile proponents, in slippery political fashion, generally avoid actual claims like what I have listed above. Rather, the claims come from underlings and average Joes, firmly endorsed but without written proof from the powerful people.
I will take that accusation back if the Terry Cookes, Larry DiIannis and Jack MacDonalds of the project will put their names to those, or similar, measurable claims.
As for economic development, industrial and to a lesser extent commercial uses could be positive for Hamilton tax revenue. Residential uses are of course a drain on revenue, since sprawl costs more to service than it brings in from taxes. But business uses will only have a positive effect if they represent net growth, that is, not competing with small, locally owned businesses which retain much more of the customer's dollar in the community.
As long as any lower city land is an unused Brownfield or dying a slow death, this is an economic noose around Hamilton taxpayers' necks that will drag down all sorts of large new Greenfield development revenues.
Road congestion is an obvious consequence of building free-to-use highways with government funds. Unlike other social programs which benefit us all, this massive transportation subsidy goes largely to those who use our road infrastructure most wastefully. Experience from all over has shown road miles traveled growing at a rate exceeding population growth and usually also economic growth.
This is due to the well-established concept of induced demand, a predictable and ubiquitous consequence of the strategy of building roads to ease congestion. This approach has caused freeway occupancy to drop to less than 1.2 people per vehicle. Surely there is no precedent for that degree of inefficient resource use in the civilian world.
The commissioned iTrans study, Assessment of Updated Auto and Truck Forecasts, has traffic growing at three percent annually, resulting in expressway peak hour gridlock around 2019, unless aggressive transit capacity is added under Vision 2020 guidelines.
This is based on growth rates of local existing roads and makes no correction for induced traffic from new lane capacity. A 1998 study by Dittmar quoted in walkablestreets.com/diet.htm shows that every 1% additional lane capacity induces 0.9% additional trips, measured after four years.
Considering the never-modeled factors of induced traffic and truck route shortcut, it will not take many years before the RHCE is saturated.
Another of the "studied to death" supporting documents at the City website is called "Vehicle Air Emissions Inventory" prepared by RWDI. The document also does not consider induced demand, only replacing trips on slow, congested Centennial etc. with expressway trips, in order to come up with a drop of 3-17 percent in total emissions.
It also treats the RHCE as flat: "The effects of grade changes have been ignored". So much for congestion and pollution modeling.
You do not have to be an engineer to notice that pollution is nasty along Hamilton's most similar stretch of highway, the Hwy 403 Ancaster hill, and in the valley around the exits to Aberdeen and Main streets. Mobile pollutant monitoring done by Clean Air Hamilton corroborates the evidence from your nose, showing possibly the worst readings in the City.
Still more questionable study results can be found. KPMG's Capital and Operating Costs - Build vs. No-Build Scenarios (see pages 19-20) claims that maintenance costs for the Linc will be 8 to 42 percent higher if RHCE is not built. Can they really assume traffic on the Linc will go down when the RHCE is completed?
Two years ago, while doing a University project on the RHCE issue, I contacted Chris Murray, project director, to ask if any post completion validation of these studies would ever be done. He did not reply.
We have to move on, but in an informed fashion. Know the claims, know the studies, and collect the data to validate or refute them. Otherwise, history will have taught us nothing.
I would rather not win this argument, because by winning it, we all lose.
The picture I paint can be avoided by bold planning decisions. Tolling the expressway and severely limiting residential development near it are unpopular but necessary actions. Otherwise, all the promises of the RHCE will evaporate.
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