Is Highway 413 the Solution to Traffic Congestion?

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By: Ifrah Ikram

Premier Doug Ford’s government proposed a new highway which would connect Highway 400 in Vaughan to the intersection of Highways 407 and 401 between Mississauga and Brampton. The proposed Highway 413 will stretch 59 kilometres and four to six lanes wide, serving the regions of York, Peel, and Halton. This route will connect Milton through Brampton west, all the way to Caledon and Vaughan. The project was first proposed by the previous Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty in 2005 but was scrapped by his successor Kathleen Wynne. However, Doug Ford revived the controversial Highway 413 project in his election campaign in 2018. The most recent fall economic statement earmarks $1.6 billion over the next six years for both Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, a 16.2 kilometer four-lane freeway to be built to connect Highways 400 and 404.

Ford’s government has supported the plan with claims surrounding the creation of jobs and the expected economic benefits.  The government anticipates the plan will create 3,500 jobs over the course of construction and inject $350 million into the economy. The Progressive Conservative government also projects that the highway will reduce commuting times by an estimated 30 minutes along its route. While these claims are appealing at first, it avoids addressing the problems that will arise, as a result.

While it is important to address the critical condition of transportation in Southern Ontario, Highway 413 will not be the one solution to fix it all. Ford’s government is adamant that this project is the best transportation strategy to manage the Greater Toronto Area’s projected population growth, but many municipalities in the region disagree. City councils in Mississauga, Halton Hills, Orangeville, and Brampton have voted against the plan, largely due to the negative environmental impacts the highway will cause. Highway 413 is slated to run through the Greenbelt, an increasingly rare and valuable greenspace in the GTA. Indeed, building more highways will only increase Southern Ontario’s dependence on automobiles, putting more cars on the road and creating more carbon emissions. Highways are known to generate an induced demand, meaning that any improvements made to transportation infrastructure will only increase demand – in this case, drivers. Not only do the number of drivers increases, but people who are not currently driving, will decide to drive. Experiments in other jurisdictions tell us that building highways only makes congestion worse. For example, in 2011 the city of Houston, Texas, constructed a $3 billion freeway which caused commuting times to increase by up to 55 percent. The Ontario government’s promise that Highway 413 will reduce traffic times is not guaranteed and will likely escalate the issue at hand.

Funds being directed towards this project should be spent on transportation improvements that are proven to reduce commuting times and reduce carbon emissions. Ontario’s existing highways can be improved to deliver these commitments, by adding high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for busses and carpooling, or by redirecting trucks to toll routes like Highway 407. Improving public transportation networks across the region to offer more routes and higher frequency can also provide the desired effects.

Another solution to reduce traffic congestion without building new highways is the use of congestion pricing. This works by shifting traffic during rush hour to other transportation modes or to off-peak periods. By removing even a fraction of vehicles from the road, this system can allow a faster commute. Zone-based pricing, where a certain fee is charged to drivers to drive within or into a congested area, is a form of congestion pricing that involves tolls. The tolls can vary by time of day and use electronic toll collection technology, such as transponders. A maximum vehicle network occurs at free flow speeds ranging from 45 mph to 65 mph, or approximately 70 kmph to 100 kmph, according to data. On regular, un-tolled highways, when there is severe congestion, the numbers of vehicles that get through drop by as much as 50 percent. This leads to a collapse of the highway for several hours, even after the rush of commuters has ended. By introducing zone-based pricing, it prevents traffic flow from breaking down, as seen in normal instances. The high level of vehicles travelling on the highway is maintained throughout rush hours. California implemented a type of zone-based pricing where lanes were variably priced on State Route 91. This allowed for each variably priced lane to carry twice as many vehicles per lane. This method of pricing allowed twice as many vehicles to travel per lane at three to four times the speed on lanes that did not have variably priced lanes.

The budget for Highway 413 should be re-directed towards existing and new public transportation projects. For instance, the GO Train network should be extended to serve the same region as Highway 413, stimulating economic growth and job creation, as well as reducing travel times and carbon emissions.  Metrolinx has already begun work on the Brampton-Hurontario LRT, which is an example of a project that increases the use of public transportation and enables people to get around without relying on cars. This project will provide rapid transit between Port Credit GO Station in Mississauga and Gateway Terminal in Brampton, with transit connections to Milton and Lakeshore West Line. This expands the transit network to connect Hamilton to the GTA via transit.

Transit projects result in general benefits for society. They allow for easier access to central business sectors and serving employment and shopping regions. It becomes convenient for people to enter and leave without having to worry about parking. People who do not drive, such as teenagers and seniors, are able to access retail and recreational centres. By connecting major cities through transit, it encourages people from different cities to use transit. However, these reasons only highlight the problematic consequences of underfunding projects. If these projects are not placed as priority for the government, there can be delayed completion, while undermining service reliability.  

The Ford government’s plan to spend $1.6 billion dollars to build Highway 413 is not justified according to its goals. While attempting to reduce commuting times, provide employment opportunities and be environmentally conscious, building another highway will only reinforce the causes of these concerns. These funds should be reallocated to build and maintain modes of transportation that are proven to accomplish these goals, in addition to provide jobs and stimulate the economy.

Ifrah Ikram is a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Her policy interests include environmental, health, and social welfare policies. Ifrah is currently a Team Administrator at the Public Good Initiative. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Political Science from the University of Guelph. 

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