Bayers Road and bust | Environment | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Bayers Road and bust

The best written road plans don’t compensate for a lack of imagination and stuck-in-the-past priorities.

Councillor Jennifer Watts (Connaught-Quinpool) says the planning efforts to widen Bayers Road go back to 1994. "Things have changed since then, so does [widening roads] reflect the reality today?" she asks. "Construction costing is based on oil-based products and the numbers are unbelievable---$292 million for the construction costs alone, from the actual Stanec study, for the whole 102/Bayers project."

Watts makes a good point. Things looked rosier in 1994, or even in 2006 when the regional plan was adopted; our blinkers were more firmly affixed. People are starting to clue in to the fact that bigger roads inevitably draw more traffic, sucking us back to square one with more SUVs in our way than before. People are observing the irreversible ascent of oil prices and impending catastrophic climate change and thinking twice about how we get around.

Sadly, it seems those people don't include our city planners. They've got blueprints, damn it! A road network functional plan. A corridor study. These link back to the regional plan. It specifically lists widening Bayers Road as a planned project. If the road network functional plan is adopted---that decision has been deferred until September--- the project will practically be a Commandment: Widen or face plague.

HRM staff handily list alternative courses of action in every report. In the road network functional plan submitted to the Transportation Standing Committee on June 23, they state, "Regional Council may choose not to adopt this plan. This is not recommended as this document simply provides background to a set of recommendations which was approved as part of the Regional MPS [Municipal Planning Strategy]." The first plan says so, this plan affirms it, shut up and do it.

Bayers Road is one of many projects planned in the road network functional plan. There's a new intersection at Burnside/Commodore Drive, a new Wright Avenue Extension, a new Highway 107 Extension, a Herring Cove Road widening, a Mount Hope Avenue extension, a Bedford South Interchange, a Middle Sackville Connector and a Highway 101 Connector and Interchange. No one knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars that will all cost.

Long-term planning is one of our city's more noble attempts at reasonable foresight. But rigid adherence to out-of-date plans is worse than having no plan at all. Yes, some constants remain. Our population is still growing. Housing in the urban core is still expensive. Most of the jobs are still in the urban core.

And bureaucratic and political imaginations still haven't incorporated an alternative to road building to accommodate the growing suburban population. The road plan calls the regional plan's goal of having 23 percent of person-trips by active or public transportation "an ambitious initiative that will require very substantial investments in active transportation (i.e. bicycle and trail facilities), public transit systems and the infrastructure associated with deploying that transit fleet effectively."

This "very substantial investment" is a fraction of the cost of building for cars. Compare that $292 million figure to Metro Transit's planned increased capital and operating costs of $20.5 million by 2015. Consultant reports observe that a metre squared of active transportation trail costs $40, while a metre of four-lane arterial roadway costs $2,060, and six lanes is $3,010.

To its credit, the road plan states that "if widening is to occur it should be focused on supporting bus transit (in the form of queue jump lanes or bus only lanes) or carpooling (in the form of high occupancy vehicle lanes) initiatives." It recommends considering road tolls, maximum parking allowances for new developments, and educating employers about "travel demand management."

The report is clear that all these roads should be linked with active transportation routes to major employment areas. But that's lip service compared to the perpetual spending on roads. The fundamental naivete the flawed belief that you can solve the problem of too many cars by building too many roads, remains.

"With major growth centres identified for Bedford South and Bedford West," the report argues, "traffic demand on Highway 102 and Bayers Road is certain to increase even with good transit service in place." This is the big lie, and it relies on the subjectivity of the term "good." However "good" HRM thinks its transit planning is, it's not good enough if it allows more motor vehicle traffic as catastrophic climate change looms.

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