Research Paper on Environment
Within the scope of this research, we will elaborate on the Red Hill Creek Expressway project that had been launched in Canada. The major purpose of this report is to assess whether this project had been a planning success or failure. The numerous factors influencing the answer to this question are as follows: feasibility of construction issue, speed of construction, costs incurred during construction, effect on the community, effect on the environment, overall contribution to the infrastructure. There are more issues that would need to be included into the assessment process, which will be done in the report.
Brief historical background
“The Red Hill Valley Parkway (popularly called the Red Hill Creek Expressway) is a municipal expressway running through Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, connecting the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway to the Queen Elizabeth Way near Hamilton Harbour. It is a four-lane freeway currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2007.” (Red Hill Valley Parkway) A proposal for an expressway cutting through the Red Hill Valley first surfaced in Hamilton City Council in the 1950s. Since then, a new regional government has been established to co-ordinate growth across the larger area. This Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Council adopted the project, then rejected it, and then readopted it. Provincial funding has seen a similar roller coaster ride. After public hearings in 1983-84, a provincial board approved the project. But it was a split vote and the dissenting opinion, written by then Environmental Assessment Board chair Michael Jeffrey, held that the region had failed to establish the need for the project.
Since then the region has completed an associated east-west highway above the escarpment in the city’s south end, but is only now getting to the Red Hill Valley project. During the long delay, new environmental assessment legislation was passed. The current plan, finalized in 1998, calls for a $200-million roadway, including diversion and rebuilding of the creek at several points, as well as removal of some 40,000 of the valley’s 47,000 trees. (Miller, 2005) “The 1990s reconstruction of the Freeman Interchange (QEW-403-407) resulted in a low capacity loop ramp for QEW Toronto-bound to 403 westbound traffic, increasing the need for a bypass of this junction altogether. In addition to connecting to the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, there are plans to extend the Red Hill Creek Parkway to the Mid-Peninsula Highway further south.” (Miller, 2005)
Overview of the controversy: opponents and supporters
The expressway, intended to link major highways above and below the Niagara Escarpment, would occupy a valley that is the last significant green space in the city’s east end. First suggested in the 1950s, it has become a strong contender for the most divisive proposed project in Canada. (Hodge, 2003) Road advocates say it will be a solution for nightmarish traffic congestion on existing highways and will attract economic development. Some claim the valley is already polluted beyond repair and argue that the new road would actually decrease emissions of airborne pollutants by substituting faster, long-distance traffic for “stop and go”. (Hodge, 2003)
Opponents, including Friends of the Red Hill Valley and 100 professors from McMaster University, say it will eliminate valuable green space and wetland, and promote more urban sprawl in the Hamilton-Wentworth Region, where new development to the east and south has led to the deterioration of the older city below the escarpment. (Polzin, 2005) The debate has split Hamiltonians like no other issue in recent years, and has been a consistent topic of letters to the editor and radio phone-in programmes. “A clash of community values” is how one official in the region’s transportation department described it. (Polzin, 2005)
Because the Red Hill project construction would alter fish habitat, it will require permits that trigger the new assessment process. When the region appeared to be inclined to push ahead with construction as far as possible before requesting the permits, the Friends group, supported by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, wrote to Fisheries and Oceans Minister David Anderson requesting initiation of the assessment process before any irrevocable decisions had been made.
The Fisheries Department responded by beginning the screening process in June 1998. The screening revealed potential for severe environmental damage, as well as widespread public concern, and in May 1999, Federal Environment Minister Christine Stewart announced the creation of a federal panel for a public review of the proposed expressway. (Polzin, 2005) The Regional Council hoped for a narrow focus on fish habitat matters, while expressway critics sought a more comprehensive review of actual transportation needs and alternative ways of meeting those needs.
When Stewart announced panel terms of reference for a broad review of the entire expressway project, regional officials and other project advocates were outraged. Regional government officials say this goes far beyond proper federal jurisdiction and will only duplicate the 1980s provincial review. “It’s bureaucracy run amok,” says Hamilton-Wentworth regional chair Terry Cooke. (Polzin, 2005) The region is now seeking legal means of quashing or avoiding the federal assessment.
Views on planning efficiency
Environmentalists believe too much has changed since 1983 for the old provincial review still to be relevant. They say any federal review must be broad if it is to meet the essential requirements of proper environmental assessment. “Alternatives are at the heart of an environmental assessment,” says Friends chair Don Mclean. “The proponents must show that their project is the best possible alternative.” (Miller, 2005)
The region’s environmental impact findings, released in the summer of 1998, include a report completed by Rowan Williams Irwin and Davies (RWDI) that has been the subject of heated debate. McMaster University professor and air quality expert David Pengelly points out a number of problems with the RWDI study. “(RWDI is) a competent outfit -- they were told to follow certain constraints,” he explains. “Nobody formally provided them with the information that there would be a lot more truck traffic.” (Polzin, 2005) Average traffic in Ontario is about seven percent trucks. More trucks are expected in the Red Hill Valley because the expressway would divert truck traffic from the Skyway Bridge across Hamilton Harbor.
Pengelly also notes that most traffic would be going uphill, increasing emissions of some pollutants, and that the RWDI study did not include measurement of known respiratory irritants including ozone, sulphur and PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). This all points back to the issue of alternatives. He is not convinced there is any justification for a new expressway up the escarpment. But, he says, “even if you say there might be some kind of justification for it, you don’t purposely put a monster pollution source in the middle of a residential area.” (Polzin, 2005)
Highway Construction Planning Specifics
Highways require large land areas for development. A mile of highway consumes nearly 50 acres of land. It is estimated, for example, that over 25 million acres of land is devoted to highway use in the United States, Canada’s neighbor. (Hodge, 2003) For all intent and purposes, this land use is irreversible and it displaces neighborhoods, businesses, natural areas, and farms. In large cities, most land use is dedicated to streets and other transportation facilities.
The flow and concentration of air pollution correlates directly with the presence of transportation arteries. It is no wonder that our major cities are plagued by chronic air contamination. When air pollution is coupled with noise pollution from highways and streets, the misery is compounded. The EPA attributes most of the air pollution problem to transportation. Today, over 73 percent of carbon monoxide, 52 percent of all hydrocarbons, and nearly one-half of all nitrogen oxides found in ambient air comes from transportation sources. (Miller, 2005) One need not stretch the imagination too far to deduce the contribution of transportation to air pollution in urban areas. Additionally, traffic noise is the most significant noise pollutant found in both rural and urban environments.
Every year highway accidents inflict a major toll on the population in terms of injury and loss of life. Currently, the number of highway fatalities exceeds 40,000 annually. (Polzin, 2005) Most of this is due to carelessness, alcohol and other substance abuse, and mechanical failures rather than the mere existence of highways. Well-designed highways, if anything, should reduce the number and severity of motor vehicle accidents. However, there is no doubt that extensive system of roads and highways along with penchant for automobiles have served to foster widespread highway usage, which inevitably leads to increased levels of risk. The heavy use of highways for commercial trucking purposes adds to this peril. Furthermore, land displacement associated with highway construction contributes to soil erosion and pollution. Constant, heavy traffic leaves a residue of oil wastes and other contaminants on the surface of streets and highways. These pollutants eventually find their way into ground waters, streams and rivers, and pollute water supply sources.
Planning success or failure: considering environmental effect
Concern over the environmental implication of Red Hill Creek Expressway project planning and construction has prompted the local agencies to require transportation control plans. This program was initiated with the ambient air quality standards established under the laws. Urban transportation development must be preceded by a comprehensive transportation plan prepared in concert with the state, regional, and local planning agencies. This plan is also subject to environmental assessment requirements. Air quality must be given appropriate consideration in highway planning, and the plan must include the following elements:
• Clear identification of the impact of highway construction on air quality
• Design of the methods used for environmental analysis
• Summary and review of consultations with the local air pollution control agency
• Determination of consistency of highway construction plans with the approved state plan. (Reid, 2003)
“The personal automobile is the least efficient form of mass transportation and produces the highest amount of environmental pollution.” (Polzin, 2005) Continued emphasis on highway construction will only encourage more vehicle usage. Transportation alternatives such as urban mass transit and light rail need to be explored thoroughly for major metropolitan areas. Mass transit systems are highly energy efficient and require minimal land displacement.
Moreover, they can significantly reduce traffic congestion. For instance, studies have shown that a bus will travel the equivalent of eighty passenger miles per gallon of gasoline in comparison to fourteen passenger miles per gallon for an automobile on urban streets, which is a six-fold increase in efficiency. (Reid, 2003) Therefore, less pollution, less noise, and fewer personal irritations are produced when urban areas are served by modern, well-planned rapid transit systems. To be successful, however, such systems must be economically competitive with private auto use in term of cost and convenience.
The role of planners is to respond to the increase in transportation and supply the needed infrastructure to serve the demand. The Federal Highway legislation allowed to use up to 1.5 percent of construction for planning. (Miller, 2005) After the end of World War II and the increase in population, the need for more highways was evident. In response to this need, the legislation initiated the most ambitious public works project ever more than 25,000 miles. Up to this point, there was not very strong support for major public transportation projects.
Role of the government in public recreation: effect on planning
Public lands can simultaneously serve both commercial and private uses. For example, the Forest Service sets aside segments of timberland for access by commercial logging interests. (Reid, 2003) Obviously, care must be taken to ensure judicious, well-planned allowances on the location and the volume of timber cutting. Failure of proper timber management will have dire results upon the ecological balance of these natural resources. Logging operations, including necessary access road construction, result in landslide possibilities, increased soil erosion, and water pollution. Wildlife, fisheries, and recreational elements are also disturbed by major logging operations.
Timber cutting reduces shade, logs clog rivers, and debris clutters the environment. All of these activities certainly have an adverse effect on the ecosystem if carried out to any extensive degree. These and other facts illustrate that clear-cutting is a damaging environmental practice as it increases soil erosion and diminishes chances of forest regeneration. It is also economically unsound because it results in eventual disappearance or severe reduction of a renewable resource and loss of job opportunities for a segment of the population.
The use of land for recreation is not something new. During ancient Roman days, the rich and powerful escaped the summer heat of Rome by retreating to the countryside. (Polzin, 2005) Later, European royalty built very elaborate summer castles and gardens in the countryside for their own use. In the early days of Canada, similar vacation homes were built by rich and influential individuals. The first major public recreational facility in the United States was the opening of Coney Island in the 1860s. Over time, the number of public parks and other commercial recreational facilities steadily grew. For instance, by 1919 the number of amusement parks approached 1,100. In the next two decades with the economic hardship emerging, the number dwindled to only one-third this number. (Reid, 2003)
Since recreational land use is determined by government action and in the public domain, it makes sense to jointly consider the health and environmental aspects of land use. The government is the single largest landowner in Canada. Over one-third of the nation’s land is owned and operated by the government. (Reid, 2003) Most of this land is dedicated to recreational purposes and nature appreciation. It is national policy to manage these lands in such a manner as to protect the natural resources, prevent exploitation, and generally provide maximum benefit for the general public. These public lands have a variety of uses such as recreation, parks, wildlife preserves and refuges, forests, watersheds, forage, commercial use (i.e., timber, minerals, etc.), and residential.
After all the factors with regards to planning efficiency that were outlined at the beginning of this report are considered, it is apparent that Red Hill Creek Expressway project is a planning failure. Not only it failed to address the environmental concerns of numerous population groups, but also is appeared not so attractive in terms of traffic congestion solution when analyzed retrospectively. Moreover, the completion time is still a big issue in this particular endeavor, which makes many initial supporters hesitant about their decision.
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