The following article was published in the King Sentinel Weekly today, and represents a montage of issues that both benefit and threaten to harm the quality of life here in King and beyond.
Mark interviewed our Chair, Greg Locke, about CCKT’s perspective on the relevance of Highway 400 passing through King, and it’s valuable to read what he and others have to say below.
Comments are welcome following the article!
By Mark Pavilons
Created as a Toronto to Barrie corridor, Highway 400 is seen by many as a route to cottage country.
But it’s a vital transportation artery that breathes life into our economy.
From Highway 401 to the Holland Marsh, the freeway largely parallels the arterial roads Weston Road and Jane Street, passing over the Oak Ridges Moraine. The highway passes through protected rural areas in northern York Region and encounters rolling countryside through King and Simcoe County.
The importance of the highway to King is obvious.
In the recently passed Economic Development Strategy, “the potential of 400 Employment Area Lands is something that has been identified as a potential long-term opportunity that needs careful assessment and consideration. A comprehensive review, assessment, business case justification and rationalization would need to be undertaken. It is recommended as a long-term Actionable Item under the Investment Readiness Goal. “
King’s access to Highway 400 provides links to Highways 401 and 407, giving local businesses access to urban centres throughout the GTA and this part of Ontario.
More specifically, the highway is vital to King City’s employment lands. The 85-acre Greenfield development comprising the King Corporate Center, at King Road and Jane, is as significant opportunity for the Township to create prestige employment. The key appeal is the location relative to the 400.
Also, lands at the 400 and King Road interchange “represent an attractive employment area opportunity of the lands can be redesignated for development,” currently under the province’s Greenbelt Plan.
As well, something that will enhance King’s appeal is the widening of the 400 to 10 lanes between Major Mackenzie and King Road, by 2031.
Another project is the planned GTA West Corridor, which will connect the 427 to the 400.
“Both of these transportation investments reinforce the positioning of lands at the King Road and Highway 400 for future sustainable employment uses.”
The highway follows the route of the Carrying Place Trail, Mayor Steve Pellegrini observed. Today, the highway is “both a blessing and a curse.”
It makes King an ideal location for all destinations, be it Toronto, Pearson International Airport or even north.
But, it splits King and all the flow-through commuter traffic travelling via King roads causes transportation headaches.
The bottom line, though, is that “it’s an important asset that provides a crucial connection.”
While there’s no doubt the 400 provides essential transport, the Concerned Citizens of King Township (CCKT) see it as a conduit, with “little to no direct benefit to our communities” other than our own direct egress and ingress as residents.
CCKT applauds King’s work on its Transportation Master Plan and that this relevant planning tool will be included in the revised Official Plan.
From their point of view, it’s critical that the province finalizes the exact route for GTA West Corridor, which will set the stage for another 400 series bypass to connect the Highway 427 extension with the 400.
“We fear that the Region will support this new 400 series connector corridor being placed within King’s boundaries. Also, we fear that the province will order a new interchange within King,” said Greg Locke, CCKT chair.
They’d rather see these located in north Vaughan which will have the significant benefit of providing effective bypasses King City and Nobleton.
While King is keeping an eye on the lands at the 400 and King Road interchange, CCKT believes it’s premature to identify new serviced lands for growth unless and until there is a clear and identified need. They don’t see this occurring within the 20-year planning horizon.
This area is clearly identified as Greenbelt, surrounded by the Moraine. It runs from Jane Street in the east over to Weston Road, encompassing King Road and north to the 15th Sideroad. These lands should stay in the Greenbelt.
“We are most concerned that these planning tools even mention this potential development and 400 corridor development in general,” Locke said.
CCKT contends King has more “available” lands for development than we think.
Besides the stock of serviced industrial and commercial lands, we have vacant lands scattered throughout the villages that are ready for repurposing that should be included in the inventory.
“We are suspicious of the economic and financial impacts that opening up these lands would provide.
“Would we attract head offices or research facilities to these lands? Would opening up the Highway 400 corridor attract more valuable functions than mere warehousing and storage services?”
The group argues the King Road/400 interchange will likely become another one of the big, commercial interchanges along 400, perhaps with some form of big box stores. King Township will be well on its way to becoming an “urbanized” municipality, and the area around King City will simply become a northern extension of Vaughan.
“We hope this corridor will be as far south as possible, avoiding King altogether, though last year one Vaughan regional councillor has suggested that Highway 9 be utilized. The implications and political push-pull are clearly serious and concerning. The Province also wants to put a new interchange somewhere on the 400 between north Vaughan and Highway 9, and you can image the impacts on our environment and our communities. There aren’t many places where such a new interchange could go: The King-Vaughan line has been identified as one; another is the 17th Sideroad. For the latter, this new highway would have to pass through the Happy Valley Forest. Would the province damage this very ecologically significant and sensitive land feature of King in order to realize its transportation strategy?”
King has embarked on its own Transportation Master Plan and the good news is that once completed and adopted by council, it will become part of the new Official Plan. However, CCKT observed that King has a history of uploading local roads to the Region in order to save money on their maintenance, and for this reason CCKT is firmly opposed to this practice.
Some politicians are in favour of opening up the 400 corridor to commercial and industrial development, something the CCKT sees as one of the greatest threats.
“We caution very, very strongly to avoid this temptation. In essence, the investment to service these lands will not pay for themselves; the businesses that will be attracted to these lands will not bring sustainable, prosperous jobs nor high assessment functions here (warehousing and open storage would be the predominant activities). And once servicing goes beyond our village boundaries (King City in particular) developers will state precedent and exploit more lands around the corridor and area, thereby causing the demise of King City,” Locke said.
Councillor Debbie Schaefer said while the 400 is a convenient access route, congestion will continue. It’s also unfortunate that transportation dollars have been prioritized for the 400 as opposed to needed public transit.
The drawbacks to this busy highway are noise that can be very loud for those living within 1-2 kilometres away. “A property in the country used to mean the opportunity to see the stars and hear the crickets and frogs at night. The latter is significantly impacted by the 400,” she said.
Residents have voiced opposition to the expansion to 10 lanes because of the increased noise. Clearly if sound barriers were erected this would be mitigated somewhat, but to date there are no such barriers and given the cost Schaefer isn’t optimistic this will ever be done.
The size of the interchanges means that significant acreage is removed from farming.
King has some social responsibility in this regard. Also, King’s Fire & Emergency Services personnel respond to accidents in King’s part of the 400, meaning it’s a direct cost to the municipality.
As well, when the 400 is restricted or shut down due to weather or collisions, commuters migrate to adjacent roads, impacting the local infrastructure.
Councillor Cleve Mortelliti would prefer to limit the “urban clutter” along the highway in King, to make it more attractive to prospective residents.
“As you drive north into the King section of the 400 the landscape opens up and it’s like food for the soul to see such a wide swath of the country untouched by the realities of our ever-expanding human population and the necessities required to sustain that population and drive our economy.,” he said. “However, I am aware of the contradiction. It’s a contradiction to criticize the loss of our natural environment as we cruise along this highway in the augmented reality of our automobiles.”
Contradiction or not. Urban sprawl and commercial alley.
Highway 400 is all these things. But as we remain reliant on our transportation networks, the highway is our multi-lane necessary evil.
The Holland Marsh farmers, like so many others in and around the 400 series, feed cities, according to Jamie Reaume, executive director, Holland Marsh Growers’ Association.
“And for that, you are all welcome,” he said.
Highways such as the 400 provide access to the marketplace, either domestic or beyond. In fact, in this era of “defining” things, you could say, without a moment’s hesitation, that a major 400 series highway running through the Holland Marsh constitutes what true urban agriculture really is, Reaume observed.
He said it can be argued that we need more large thoroughfares to transport the amazing food that we already grow, so that there is more immediate access. “That is why we agree that something needs to be done about the very poor infrastructure that exists presently in the province – because the economics simply do not add up any longer, even in the agricultural aspect of what we do in Ontario.”