Why we need Highway 413 

Our columnist steers into the debate and makes the case why the GTA West Highway should be built

By Norris McDonald

Mar 27, 2021 4 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

Join the Conversation (0)
Once upon a time, the people elected to public office had vision. They didn’t look at what was; they looked at what might be – and acted accordingly.

These days, most politicians only see as far as the end of their noses. Where once they looked to the future, now they think about the next election and their chances of staying in power.

When the Prince Edward Viaduct was designed in the early part of the last century, a structure hanging from the bottom of the bridge was added because the politicians knew Toronto’s population would eventually explode and transit options had to be available. As a result, tens of millions of dollars were saved when the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966 and public access to the centre from the east and west ends of the city was ensured.

Which brings me to the proposed GTA West Highway, a.k.a. Highway 413. Everybody seems to be against this highway. Even my own paper, the Toronto Star, is against it. Me? I am very much for it, especially when I think about what south-central Ontario is going to look like 50 or 100 years from now.

And that is the key; a lesson we don’t seem to have learned from the Prince Edward Viaduct. Things change. What might be true today will not be true in half a century.

When a bridge across the Don Valley was first proposed in 1909, a referendum turned it down. Another in 1912 saw the proposal defeated by 59 votes and in 1913, when it was approved, the plurality was 9,236. As more and more people moved into Toronto, a bridge over the valley became not only desirable but necessary.

So, objections to Highway 413, which would run from Highway 400 south of Barrie west to Guelph or beyond, are misguided. They appear to focus on the environment, sprawl, commuting times and pollution caused by cars, all of which are debatable. Let’s look at commuting time first.

According to studies, commuters would save only 30 to 60 seconds per trip if they built that road. As is the case with statistics (you can use the same numbers to prove or disprove anything you want), computer modeling can be loaded to present best- or worst-case scenarios and that’s where this estimate comes from: models.

Right now, going from Barrie to Guelph, via the 400 and 401, can take 90 minutes in real time. Common sense tells you that without either a new highway or expanded capacity of current 400-series roadways, an increase in population – and traffic – in Barrie (it went from 21,000 in 1961 to 141,000 in 2016) guarantees an increase in the time required to take that same trip, not a decrease.

We can lump sprawl and the environment together because the mayor of Mississauga, Bonnie Crombie, did. She said the building of Highway 413 would be an environmental disaster and would encourage sprawl.

Crombie is the mayor of a city where you are hard-pressed to find, other than in subdivisions, a road or street that isn’t six- or eight-lanes wide. It is the home of six (count ’em, six) 400-series highways (the QEW, highways 403, 401, 407, 410 and some of Highway 427). A 10-acre plot of land kitty-corner to City Hall is being developed by Rogers, which is building a half-dozen high-rise condominiums.  And she talks about a relatively short stretch of highway as being an environmental disaster? She and her council should take a look out the window.

And the reason Mississauga is the King of Sprawl, among other municipalities in the GTA, is because, social engineering aside, most people growing up want to buy their own house. They like grass, decks and backyard pools. Condos or rental apartments are swell when you’re 21 and on-the-prowl, but when you meet someone and fall in love and get married, you start saving for a house and that is just human nature.

One of the reasons housing prices are going through the roof in the GTA and much of Ontario is because people have been cooped up in their condos and rental apartments for the last year and want out. It’s obvious they are so stir crazy that they will pretty much pay anything to get there.

There’s something else going on here, too. I didn’t hear a peep when the previous government extended Highway 407 east from Highway 404 to highways 35 and 115 with two or three four-lane divided connections south to Highway 401. Not a peep and yet valuable farmland was ploughed under and paved over out there too.

And anybody really worried about the environment should relax because by the time they actually get this highway built, most of the cars using it will be electric and nobody will really notice it’s there.

There are many things our society should be concerned about, other than this highway. And if it’s never built, so be it. I am making an argument; I am not losing sleep over this.

But 20 years from now, when gridlock is 20 times worse than it is today and people start saying, “Whatever happened to that highway they were going to build?”, tell them to go ask the people who shot it down back in 2021. You probably won’t find them, though, because they’ll be hiding.

Norris McDonald Special to Wheels