Hamilton

Fix the traffic jam at Red Hill parkway and the QEW, city tells Ontario

Traffic congestion is a problem where the Red Hill Valley meets the QEW. Now the city wants the province to hurry up and alleviate that.

The province has plans to expand the QEW, but it won't happen any time soon

Hamilton city council is asking the province to fix the traffic bottleneck at Red Hill Valley Parkway and the QEW. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Traffic congestion is a problem where the Red Hill Valley parkway meets the QEW. Now the city wants the province to hurry up and make improvements to the QEW to alleviate that.

The cars are still coming because the houses are still coming.- Doug Conley , Ward 9 councillor

Hamilton city council voted Wednesday to press the province to look at congestion at the "pinch point" where the two highways meet. The province already has a plan to do that, but it's moving slowly.

Council also voted to look at doing a traffic study to see how many vehicles use the municipally-owned Red Hill Valley and Lincoln Alexander parkways every day. They want that to include counts on all on and off ramps to the highways.

The move is just the latest in Hamilton city council's ongoing debate over how to curb congestion on the two city highways.

In the last year alone, council has debated widening the road to six lanes and tolling out-of-town vehicles.

At the same time, it wants to make the highways safer. That includes asking for the province's thoughts on installing photo radar — a matter still unresolved — and looking at $10 million worth of traffic calming measures to discourage speeding.

We just approved last year another 2,000 houses in my ward. How many cars is that?- Doug Conley , city councillor

This month, the subject of widening the Linc and Red Hill highways came up again. City staff said expanding them to six lanes would only cause worse bottlenecks where the highways meet Highway 403 and the QEW because the provincial highways and their on ramps have limited space.

It would cause worse back-ups, city staff said in a report. It would also mean "slower speeds, longer travel time, delays to access the parkway and longer peak traffic periods." It would also draw more drivers to city streets to get around the congestion.

Councillors opted to keep the notion of widening the highways as part of a larger city-wide transportation master plan. Instead, they voted to look at doing a traffic study. 

We can either be ostriches and put our heads in the sand ... or you can accept that approximately 70,000 vehicles a day use these two parkways.- Tom Jackson, Ward 6 councillor

As for alleviating the pinch point, the province plans to eventually do that. But it's slow going so far.

In 2007, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) began Niagara to GTA (NGTA) Corridor Planning and Environmental Assessment Study, said spokesperson Astrid Poei. 

One of the recommendations: widen the QEW by two HOV lanes from the Freeman interchange over the Burlington Skyway to the Red Hill Valley Parkway, and beyond to Highway 406 in St. Catharines.

Now the province has to do environmental assessments and get approvals. It's included the expansion as part of a five-year capital plan for 2016 to 2020. But Ontario is prioritizing it alongside other projects, and available funding. 

Whatever happens, solutions can't come soon enough, said Doug Conley, Ward 9 councillor for upper Stoney Creek.

The houses keep coming

Developers are building more and more houses in upper Hamilton, he said. The highways can't handle the traffic that brings.

"We just approved last year another 2,000 houses in my ward," Conley said. "How many cars is that?"

"All along the highway, they're putting new houses in … No matter what's there now, the cars are still coming because the houses are still coming."

Tom Jackson, Ward 6 councillor, agreed. 

"We can either be ostriches and put our heads in the sand" and pretend traffic numbers will go down in the future, he said. "Or you can accept that approximately 70,000 vehicles a day use these two parkways."

'We're not sure if we're sucking or blowing'

Every councillor voted in favour of leaning on the province. But like last year, many still aren't interested in widening the highways.

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, said the city wants to curb speeding. On the other hand, it's talking about widening the road.

"We're not sure if we're sucking or blowing on this issue," he said.

Widening the Lincoln Alexander Parkway would require an environmental assessment, city staff say. That would take about two years and cost about $500,000.

Overall, it would cost about $61 million to widen the two highways. 

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