Written by By Selena Larson, CNN
Ontario, which has become Canada’s largest province since amalgamation in 1997, is taking a step into the business of building roads to sprawl.
With 72 local municipalities spanning the area of 1,074 kilometers (735 miles), the province already handles a large share of the country’s road-building. Now, it’s constructing a billion-dollar highway extension in Niagara, on its way to Toronto, its largest city, adding 69 new kilometres of transit.
The plan is to add new toll lanes to Highway 407, which already carries an average of about 75,000 vehicles a day. The city of Niagara, only a two-hour drive from Toronto, has so far been eligible for a 20% subsidy from Ontario to support a future light rail system.
Plans for the highway extension were approved on March 30 by the Niagara Regional Board of Commissioners, with the express purpose of expanding the region’s economy, according to the Niagara District, an arm of the province.
A pan-Canadian, North American network
Toll roads are big business in Ontario, with high-profile trips such as the Toronto and Ottawa shuttle to the other end of the US that can be completed in under 45 minutes.
The province has up to 11 highways in total, and as of April 2017, the number of vehicles entering the province on toll roads had doubled in a decade, according to the Toronto Star
The president of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Transportation and Energy Group, George Cottrell, called the proposed highway expansion a “backdoor tax grab.”
“If the province wants to expand the number of toll roads in its economic benefit portfolio, it has to change legislation to allow municipalities to fund additional road capacity, not pass it on to the taxpayers,” Cottrell told the Toronto Star .
One way or another, this move is part of a multi-pronged plan to create a regional network in Ontario. Last month, Ontario council gave the green light to a dual toll road linking Toronto’s downtown core to Richmond Hill, on the outskirts of the city.
Separately, the province is working with its neighbour Quebec to shore up Montreal’s Bixi, a bike-sharing venture, to help it compete with the bike-sharing companies such as San Francisco-based Spinlister.