Environmental activists warned of out-of-town trucks on Red Hill 19 years ago

The city of Hamilton is doing a survey to prove out-of-town trucks are using the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) as a shortcut from one provincial highway to another. But nearly 20 years ago, a group of highway opponents warned decision makers of exactly that — only to be largely ignored.

Truckers using the route as a shortcut to provincial highways is now a concern for city officials

(Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Growing concerns that out-of-town trucks are using the municipally-funded Red Hill and Linc highways as a short cut between provincial highways is no surprise to activists who campaigned against the highway.

They warned the city almost 20 years ago that local taxpayers would end up funding a road that would used as a provincial shortcut for truckers, but were largely ignored.

But it's now an issue for the city, which has brought some small vindication to the opponents.

City council voted last month to spend $16,000 to install four cameras to count out-of-town trucks on the highways. It'll use the results, in part, to ask the province for money.

Joe Minor, a highway opponent at the time, is aware of the irony. But he doesn't take any joy from it.

"What's the point in saying 'we told you so?'" he said. "We've said a lot of things.

"We also said there was a danger that this road was likely to be a traffic hazard because it was winding, had too many entrances and accesses, and didn't have a dividing centre median. That's proven to be true as well. But it's not going to change what happened."

In 1998, the Friends of Red Hill sat with chairs and clipboards and did their own 24-hour survey at the interchange of Highway 403 and QEW Niagara, of trucks passing Hamilton to or from Niagara.

These trucks, they reasoned, were the sort likely to use the RHVP when it opened. They found more than 15 per cent of heavy trucks — or as many as 5,000 in that period — were taking that route around the city. 

That would mean local taxpayers, who pay for the Red Hill and Linc, would bear the brunt of the cost of maintaining the roads, the group argued. They included that in a long list of reasons why they thought the highway was a bad idea.

The highway opened in 2007.

The city says 10 years later, that the highway was a good investment. 

It's decreased wear and tear on the roads, it says. It also spawned a number of jobs — although so far, short of the 14,000 predicted.

In 2011, the highway brought $14,252,714 in taxes and $386 million worth of assessment, the city says. As of 2013, 18 businesses set up near the parkway, including the Fortino's headquarters, Canada Bread and Maple Leaf Foods. It's also led to big box stores and vast amounts of new residential development on Stoney Creek Mountain.

Other aspects are harder to measure. There's no definitive measure of how much the highway harmed the ecosystem, or whether it brought pollution. One local Hamilton researcher, Denis Corr, says his air quality monitoring shows the highway hasn't had a major impact. Neighbours near the highway, meanwhile, say they're overwhelmed by the diesel smell.

The Friends of Red Hill were right on at least one other argument though. The highway has brought more traffic.

On the Red Hill itself, there were 45,749 vehicles in October 2008 compared to 59,833 in October 2010, only two years later. The city's most recent data is May 2014, when there were 58,444. Traffic on surrounding arteries are also creeping back to pre-Red Hill Valley Parkway levels.

As for the Friends of Red Hill's out-of-town truck survey, Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 likens it to "a broken clock being right twice a day." He moved the idea of the survey last month, and has even mused about tolling out-of-town trucks.

The highway was still worth it though, he said. It eliminated truck traffic in east end neighbourhoods, he said, particularly on Kenilworth and Ottawa and the neighbourhoods around them.

"You can have a street hockey game on any one of those side streets," he said.


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