Bradford residents have been recently stirred up by the revival of the proposed link between Highway 400 and Highway 404 (aka, the Bradford Bypass), after recent releases by environmental groups expressed concerns over the impact to the environmentally-sensitive Holland Marsh, and pointed out that the original environmental assessment (EA) has not been updated in over two decades.
The Bypass is a proposed 16.2 km rural 4-lane ‘controlled access freeway’ that will extend from Highway 400 between Lines 8 and 9 in Bradford West Gwillimbury, to Highway 404 between Queensville Sideroad and Holborn Road in East Gwillimbury.
Preliminary designs and the EA (originally created in 1997) will have to adhere to all relevant new and existing provincial and federal legislation, including the Endangered Species Act, Greenbelt Plan, Heritage Act, Fisheries Act, and Species at Risk Act. However, critics argue that the boundaries set for the new highway will impact wetlands and protected farmland areas, placing migratory birds and aquatic life at risk and contributing to an increase in carbon emissions.
Under the new Ontario Budget Measures Act (Bill 229, Section 6), Conservation Authorities’ powers were ‘narrowed,’ when it comes to assessing the environmental impacts of new builds and developments. Environmental activists and conservation groups remain devastated by the new laws which they say will allow developers to ‘dump, build, and excavate in high-risk areas’ with a ‘fast track’ pass to issue permits as needed.
Bradford resident Alyssa Da Silva recently shared a petition created by the environmental group Environmental Defence, on the ‘Welcome to Bradford’ Facebook Group page.
The petition calls for an updated EA and characterizes the Bypass as a “destructive highway” which would destroy forests, farms, wetlands, rivers, and communities... all for the sake of saving drivers a mere ‘minute’ on their commutes home.
“If the province won’t take these threats seriously, then we need the federal government to step in,” reads part of the petition.
The posting sparked debate among Bradford residents. Although Da Silva’s post was removed after an hour, many residents weighed in with their opinions - some agreeing with the petition’s statements, and others emphasizing the need for the new east-west link.
Bradford resident Amanda Monteiro agreed with Da Silva and shared her comment that “people don’t realize they need the environment to survive” – but apparently misunderstood the location of the proposed link, presuming that it would negatively impact Holland Marsh farmland.
Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association Jody Mott suggested that the group’s description was misleading, and acknowledged that she had received several phone calls earlier in the day regarding the impacts the highway would have on the Holland Marsh.
“It’s not going through the Holland Marsh (polder area), it’s at the edge of the Marsh,” stated Mott, noting that the highway does not impact the protected agricultural lands south of Line 8 in BWG.
In fact, Mott said, "The Bradford Bypass is a needed piece of infrastructure that is strongly supported by our farmers. It is incorrect to say it runs through the Holland Marsh proper."
She added that the growers have been working with the Ministry of Transportation, to ensure that all concerns are addressed, including environmental concerns. "We know what we need to do in our area to fix the traffic congestion, to get our products to market."
As shown in the map that can be viewed here, the Holland Marsh area in question includes the portion of the marsh lying to the south of Lake Simcoe’s Cook Bay, an area that already includes some development, housing, and a golf course.
But DaSilva pointed out that it is still wetland.
“If you look at the map of where that marsh starts – at the base of the Bay – it’s all wetlands and marsh,” Da Silva said. “Authorities still consider that a ‘wetland’… it’s where the ‘mouth’ of the marsh begins.”
She added that her original intention for sharing the petition was to create awareness among residents of the full impacts of the new highway plans. She is neither affiliated with any environmental group nor an ‘activist,’ but rather a concerned “born and raised” resident of Bradford West Gwillimbury, she said.
“I wanted to bring attention on environmental oversight which is being dismantled,” insisted Da Silva. “Institutions that are supposed to protect long-term survival of our natural environments are being stripped of their rights – there needs to be a balancing act.”
Da Silva said that many community members share her concerns about “rules being bent” to make developments happen that will negatively impact the environment.
“The government is adjusting regulations to get projects ‘squeezed out’,” said Da Silva. “I understand the need for progress but I feel this can be done in a way that respects the community members. With solid planning and community involvement, we can work together to have a functioning town without the bottleneck traffic.”
Bradford resident and local farmer Jason Verkaik, owner of Carron Farms, caught Da Silva’s post on Wednesday evening and chimed in with his opinion:
“We already have a highway going through the Holland Marsh Proper – it’s the 400 Highway!” wrote Verkaik. “Farms are still accessible. The highway is access for farmers to get their produce to the markets. As the town grows in population, it’s just the nature of how politics works.”
Verkaik suggested that the Bypass is something Bradford and the surrounding areas need to accommodate population growth and mitigate traffic problems, adding that it “makes logical sense.”
“Everyone knows what the Holland Marsh is and what it provides,” shared Verkaik. “It doesn’t matter where you put a highway, you’re going to have to balance the environment no matter what, especially during these hypersensitive times.”
Bradford resident Liz Gorzo-Toffelmire argued that construction of the Bradford Bypass would allow for less congestion on Highways 400 and 88, and on Canal Road, giving the transports better route options, especially east of Yonge Street.
“The Bradford Bypass was never planned to go through the Holland Marsh,” shared Gorzo-Toffelmire, a life-long resident who lives on a farm off Canal Road. “Since I was a kid, for decades families used Canal Road as a thoroughfare to get to cottages… The Bypass is a much-needed route to lessen the need for people to use Canal Road and 88 as a ‘drive through’ to get from West 400 to East (Keswick/Georgina).”
Gorzo-Toffelmire also remembered the ‘nightmare’ accident of a few years ago, on Highway 400 just north of Canal Road, that had many motorists trapped on the highway.
“Everyone was stuck trying to get home. It took me three-plus hours to get from Green Lane and Yonge to my farm on Canal Road… There was no other road to reroute traffic going North. All the roads in and around the Marsh were filled with cars.”
An alternate route is needed, especially if the Holland Marsh polder ever faces flooding of the scope caused by Hurricane Hazel, Gorzo-Toffelmire suggested.
In an effort to clarify the situation, Mayor Rob Keffer released a statement shortly after Environmental Defence’s petition began circulating online.
Keffer noted, “This is a critical piece of infrastructure, and the need for the Highway 400-404 Connecting Link (also known as the Bradford Bypass) has been definitively proven through extensive public consultation as well as technical studies. As a farmer and conservationist, I am confident the Provincial Government is undertaking all due diligence, including some 15 Environmental Studies that are being done in order to update the EA.”
MPP Caroline Mulroney’s office shared a similar statement regarding the Bypass and EA:
“For decades, commuters in York Region and Simcoe County have been demanding a connecting link between Highways 400 and 404. The Bradford Bypass will bring relief to drivers, support development in York Region and Simcoe County, and bolster Ontario’s economy following this pandemic. Ontario is updating the almost 50-year-old Environmental Assessment Act and is committed to building a strong program that considers the input of local communities.”
A spokesperson for Mulroney went on to state, “Our goal is to streamline processes, without changing their outcomes. As such, environmental protections will not be compromised. A new streamlined process for assessing and consulting on potential environmental impacts will result in shorter timelines and allow for construction to start earlier. By working smarter, we will build important infrastructure for communities faster.”
The Ford Government has recently received numerous letters of concern from communities and Conservation Authority supporters, worried that recent legislation and reliance on Ministerial Zoning Orders have been undermining environment protections.
Unhappy with the response from Queen’s Park, activists now appear to want to take their concerns to the Federal level in Ottawa.
To learn more about the Bradford Bypass, visit: www.bradfordbypass.ca