Councillors (briefly?) approve million dollar roads to nowhere
Environment Hamilton staff are going to begin publishing short blog posts on Council and Committee meetings as different interesting or noteworthy decisions or debates occur that may be of interest to our membership and the community at large.
Any regular City Hall watcher in any city will tell you - sometimes decisions just don't really make sense. While there is still some discourse happening in response to the decision by Council to fund a 3-year e-bike pilot for our community bike share program due to what some Councillors believed to be a costly price tag - it's important to note that wasteful decisions (of both time, and money when you factor in the fact staff are paid for their time) seemingly continue to happen every day. These costs do add up, but unfortunately no one is running a tab. One of these such decisions happened yesterday during Planning Committee.
Planning Committee received the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) Transportation Master Plan Update. Environmental concerns about the AEGD and this TMP update aside (planning staff included a few paragraphs on climate change in the report but did not even speak to Hamilton's climate change staff about it), this update came at a novel time for the City of Hamilton. Originally the Transportation Master Plan was conceived of as a means to ensure economic functioning of the AEGD - however when the provincial government overruled Hamilton's own official plan and forced our city to expand our urban boundary to accommodate future sprawl development on farmland, these changes were taken by staff and incorporated into the update that Planning Committee received on October 31st.
In the update this meant that three roads (and some other changes) that were not previously to be expanded were identified and slated for expansion into the new forced urban boundary area. It's important to note that in the cost breakdown in the Update that all these new roads roughly will cost about $10 million per kilometer - with these changes as a result of the province's action costing the City of Hamilton tens of millions more dollars in road construction to accommodate sprawl.
What makes this so novel though, and I hope most who are reading this post would know this already, the province has reversed it's decision to force an urban boundary expansion on Hamilton. Heralded by the Mayor and Council as well as the public, it's clear that Hamilton will be going back to our original plan: building the housing we need where we already have land available for it. It is understandable to assume that when Council gets it's chance later in November to vote on our official plan - we will be going back to our "no urban boundary expansion" plan that Hamiltonians supported in record numbers.
So we have an updated AEGD transportation master plan that has new roadway plans in it that serve the purpose of going into farmland that - as far as everyone can more or less see - will not be actually turned into suburbs. To quote Ward 13 Councillor Alex Wilson, Hamilton Council can "see where the puck is going" and sought to delay a vote on this transportation master plan until after Council made a final decision regarding the larger city-wide official plan. To many this may make a lot of sense - why approve a plan that includes tens of millions of dollars in new roads that we all know won't be necessary? City staff replied to these concerns that the updated plan can be "tweaked" after the fact - something ostensibly we all know they will need to do. For a lot of us on the outside of City Hall this would seemingly seem to be a fiscally prudent decision and sensical governance decision to simply delay approving the plan as it is.
That is not however how the vote went - at Planning Committee the new AEGD Transportation Master Plan Update (with it's sprawl-generated roads) was approved 7-1. Councillors Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Matt Francis (Ward 5), Esther Pauls (Ward 7), Jeff Beatie (Ward 10), Mark Tadeson (Ward 11), Craig Cassar (Ward 12), and Ted McMeekin (Ward 15) voted "Yea" while the sole "Nay" came from Alex Wilson (Ward 13).