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City council slows down Red Hill, Linc widening debate

Coun. Doug Conley's pitch to do a separate study on widening the two local highways met with resistance from lower city councillors.

Councillor had pitched studying widening Red Hill Valley and Lincoln M. Alexander parkways to 6 lanes

Does the Red Hill Valley Parkway need another lane in each direction? (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

After a short but heated exchange that pit the five lower city councillors against the rest, Hamilton city council voted Wednesday to wrap a study of widening the Red Hill Valley Expressway and the Lincoln M. Alexander Expressway into an ongoing review of the citywide Transportation Master Plan.

That decision blocks a move by councillor Doug Conley to have a separate study done onwidening specifically the two roads outside the context of the city's other infrastructure and transportation needs. The overall transportation plan is expected to come before council for discussion in fall 2016. 

I think there was some concern I was trying to jump the queue.- Con. Doug Conley

The idea to wrap it in got a more favourable reaction than the motion from Conley to both look at widening the parkways and ask the province and the feds for money to support it. Conley was the only councillor to oppose the idea to wrap it into the larger transportation plan. 

The lower city councillors, Aidan Johnson, Jason Farr, Matthew Green, Sam Merulla and Chad Collins opposed the idea of doing a separate, extra study just to focus on the Red Hill and Linc widening and to ask the federal and provincial governments for funding.

"I think there was some concern I was trying to jump the queue," Conley said. "My enthusiastic approach gave that perception."

But he said he didn't necessarily mean the road widening should be presented ahead of other needs.

We're thinking like Hamiltonians from 1950.- Coun. Sam Merulla

'The most divisive issue'

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the road widening was not a personal priority for him but said he could imagine the constituent complaints about traffic that Conley's office is getting.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla called the topic the "most divisive issue in the city."

He praised the Red Hill's economic impact and said the road should take much of the credit for the "renaissance" of Hamilton's east end and places like the Ottawa Street Business Improvement Area. But he said highlighting these two roads without knowing how they compare the rest of the transportation and infrastructure needs in the city was misguided.

"We're thinking like Hamiltonians from 1950 as opposed to the new Hamiltonians that are moving here," Merulla said. He said people who move to Hamilton from Toronto and elsewhere don't want to commute in the car; they want to commute via public transit.

Merulla and Collins voted against Conley's proposal to look into the feasibility of expanding the two highways from four lanes to six in a committee meeting last week, saying it sends an unclear message to the province and feds about Hamilton's infrastructure priorities.

"I'm just concerned that this is the project that we're choosing, and I'm not certain at this point that it's warranted," Collins said.

Coun. Terry Whitehead pushed back on Merulla's assessment, saying his concern about congestion on those roads is "not just about commuting residents," but was also about the businesses in the area.

Gerry Davis, the city's director of public works, said that he did not have information to present on Wednesday about how much congestion there is on the Red Hill and Linc parkways, which function like highways, but he said that traffic often moves at speeds higher than 115 km/h even though the speed limit is 90 km/h. 

"We're debating this tonight and we're still not aware of how congested it is or when that congestion occurs," said Coun. Jason Farr.

Catch up on this discussion and other items from Wednesday's agenda here

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