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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bayers Road widening: Chebucto Road redux

Another suburbs vs urban neighbourhood fight is brewing

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 9:58 AM

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Former councillor Sheila Fougere, who represented the Connaught-Quinpool district, was an excellent work-a-day councillor who budged Halifax in many positive directions. But, alas, Fougere will probably best be remembered for her failure to stop the widening of Chebucto Road.

That project provoked outrage in the community, pitted the suburbs against the peninsula and revealed that the city bureaucracy is not as committed to sustainable transportation as it likes to portray.

And now, Fougere's successor, Jennifer Watts, has another yet another potential road-widening project fall on her lap. At issue is Bayers Road, which is a major commuting route off the peninsula and northward via the BiHi to the new suburbs sprawling out in Bedford and Hammonds Plains. Projections for future traffic on Bayers say the road will essentially be gridlocked, and already buses routinely fall 15 to 20 minutes behind schedule due to congestion on Bayers.

In typical 1970s-style car-is-king thinking, provincial and city planners (the road doubles as a provincial route) talk of widening the three-lane portion of Bayers between Windsor and Connaught to four lanes, and widening the four-lane section of Bayers between Connaught and the BiHi to six lanes.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Watts took on city staff and demanded that upcoming "public consultations" on the project not proceed in the bullshit "open house" format that staff uses to discount, ignore and confuse opposition (see: tax reform). She also wants plans that are in the hands of city employees to be made public now; remarkably, provincial bureaucrats, who are likewise public employees and covered by access to information laws, are refusing to turn over Bayers-related maps and other documents they have produced.

To his credit, mayor Peter Kelly has recently suggested that congestion on Bayers might be addressed without widening by taking out the median and installing a reversible transit lane. That's a solution Watts supports, and it responsibly focuses city transportation planning on transit, rather than cars.

Still, planners appear hell-bent on widening. They're playing a bureaucratic shell game: they assured councillors in 2006 that passing the regional plan, which included the Chebucto and Bayers projects, didn't commit them to those projects, as council would get the chance to vote them up or down for final approval at a later date. But then, two or three years later, when it comes time to vote on that final approval, the planners argue council must fund the projects because they're in the regional plan. Councillors change, memories are short, but city hall shenanigans remain.

Councillors Tim Outhit and Peter Lund, who represent Bedford and Hammond Plains respectively, spoke in general support of the bureaucrats and against Watts' efforts to get them under control. And so here we are again, with suburbanites wanting to bulldoze through yet another urban neighbourhood so they can knock a few minutes off their morning commute as they drive to work alone in their SUVs.

A public meeting on the Bayers project will be held Wednesday, February 11, 6-9pm at the Saint Andrews Centre, 6955 Bayers Road.

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