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ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — Plans for a mid-peninsula corridor are pressing forward, despite concerns from Niagara Falls Mayor Wayne Thomson.

Thomson told Niagara Falls city council Monday night he is concerned the proposed highway, tentatively set to run along the top of the escarpment parallel to the QEW, would divert potential tourist traffic from his municipality.

However, Niagara Region Chair Debbie Zimmerman, who has made the highway concept a pet project of hers, said Thomson’s comments will not unhinge a process that is already under way.

“We are not going to overreact,” Zimmerman said. “We will keep moving forward with our study.”

The province and Niagara Region are partnering on a needs assessment for the highway. The assessment is expected to wrap up in the spring.

Niagara Falls has not assumed an official position on the mid-peninsula corridor. The city’s staff has been asked by council to prepare a report on the expected effects of the highway on Niagara Falls.

Rather than having a six-lane QEW and a second highway artery along the top of the escarpment, Thomson said development should continue where it already exists, with the completion of Highway 406 through to Port Colborne as the second priority.

“What we’re interested in is making sure the Queen E. is complete,” Thomson said Tuesday. “We have an opportunity for four lanes each way.

“Our objective is to see the QEW complete, then the 406. Then some proper justification for any further transportation corridor.”

With a concern for the tender fruit lands bordering the QEW corridor and the heavy truck traffic using the highway, Zimmerman said the preferred option would be to use lands in the more rural southern tier of Niagara for new highway infrastructure.

She said a highway to divert trucks from the QEW may actually increase the amount of tourist traffic coming into Niagara.

“Upgrades are long overdue on the QEW,” Zimmerman said. “But I don’t ever see Niagara as served by a single super-highway.

“I see us served by an alternate route as well.”

Tender fruit and grape lands are at a premium in Niagara and the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society has long been against any kind of development that would threaten them.

Past president Dr. John Bacher said instead of new roadways, discussion should be centred on the development of alternative modes of transporting people and goods.

“What seems to be driving a lot of the discussion for transportation improvements is trucking,” he said. “There should be a discussion of what modes of transport are appropriate to move freight around.”

He said concepts like zero inventory and just-in-time delivery that have fostered the growth of the trucking industry are “faddish” and that more should be done to encourage moving freight by rail or ship.

“I have never seen any real discussion on that,” Bacher said in an interview Tuesday. “We have just assumed that this move to trucking is progress.”

Thomson dismisses claims a further expansion of the QEW would harm local agricultural enterprises.

“The corridors are already existing,” he said. “Expanding the QEW is not a matter of acquiring more land.

“Unlike the mid-peninsula corridor, the (QEW) corridor is already there.”

— The Standard (St. Catharines)

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