Bradford Bypass – May 2021 Update

May 26, 2021

The Ontario government is planning to build a 16.2 kilometre long, 4-lane freeway connecting Highway 400 and Highway 404.  Dubbed the Bradford Bypass, the highway will extend from Highway 400 between Lines 8 and 9 in Bradford West Gwillimbury, will cross a small portion of King Township and will connect to Highway 404 between Queensville Sideroad and Holborn Road in East Gwillimbury.  There are proposed full and partial interchanges, as well as grade separated crossings at intersecting municipal roads and watercourses, including the Holland River and Holland River East Branch. Those in support of the Bradford Bypass believe it is a necessary piece of infrastructure that will reduce traffic congestion and ease the movement of goods.

There are, however, serious concerns with the actual and cumulative impacts of the highway on sensitive ecosystems. The Holland Marsh Wetland Complex (2,835 ha) lies within the valley of the Holland River, stretching from the northern edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine near Schomberg, all the way to the river mouth at Cook’s Bay, Lake Simcoe. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition reports that the highway project is anticipated to negatively impact 17.2 hectares of Holland Marsh (designated environmentally sensitive area), 22.1 hectares of high-quality woodlands, 9.5 hectares of designated provincially significant wetlands, and 32.7 hectares of significant wildlife habitat.

The province says that area accounts for less than one per cent of the overall area of the Holland Marsh Wetland Complex; however, any fragmentation of habitat and disruption of natural corridors can have severe and irreversible impacts. The highway would cut in half a significant swath of important natural areas, significant wetlands and aquatic habitat. It would also traverse the largest remaining forested portion of the Holland Marsh, a critically important wildlife habitat area; and come within a few kilometres of the Holland Landing Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve which contains one of the few remaining areas of tall prairie grass in Ontario. (A major intersection is planned for the forested area at the north end of Bathurst Street).

The idea of a new highway connecting the 404 and the 400 goes back 20 years.  The original Environmental Assessment (EA) was completed in 1997 and approved (with conditions) in 2002.  A recent release from Ecojustice, representing a number of environmental and community groups, described the environmental assessment conducted for the project in 1997 as superficial, arguing it did not consider cumulative effects, climate change, endangered species, or the impacts on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, First Nations cultural heritage, or discuss air pollution. Further, it did not consider any non-highway options to improve the road network. While the government has noted that the bypass would save drivers up to 35 minutes, they haven’t provided any studies to verify these claims and the previous assessment did not look at whether the province could help congestion issues by increasing public transit or improving existing roads.

In July 2020, the Ontario Government proposed to exempt the Bradford Bypass from completion of any environmental assessment updates, and to exempt the project from all existing conditions of approval including stormwater management and groundwater protection.

Ontario’s 2021 budget document stated that engineering and environmental assessment work was advancing on the Bradford Bypass which will allow works to begin as early as fall 2021. The budget document implied that early works would be commenced without a preliminary design for the highway and before the environmental assessment studies were completed. In contrast, the MTO project website states that the preliminary design is not anticipated to be completed until early 2023.

In February 2021, a coalition of more than 20 environmental groups asked the federal government to take over the environmental assessment for the Bradford Bypass.  Unfortunately, on May 3rd, Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced that the Bradford Bypass project did not warrant a federal assessment under the Impact Assessment Act. 

Summary points:

  • Comprehensive studies to determine the highway’s impact on Lake Simcoe and the Lake Simcoe watershed have not been done, and the province is set to fast-track the project without those studies. The studies that were done predicted adverse impacts to fish habitat, stormwater (flooding) and groundwater contamination.
  • The earlier assessment did not account for the climate crisis or research showing that building new highways doesn ’t reduce congestion — the concept of ‘induced demand’.
  • The highway would cross over nearly 11 hectares of sensitive wetlands, roughly the size of 27 football fields.
  • The highway would cut through the traditional territory of the Georgian Island First Nation. The First Nation has never been consulted although the expressway route would disrupt sacred sites.
  • Highways invite land speculation and facilitate urban sprawl, eroding protection of the Greenbelt. York Region recently requested that the province allow development in protected Greenbelt lands along all 400 series highways.
  • Recent changes to the expropriation act will make it easier to take homes for a highway, eliminating the need for a hearing to determine if the project is necessary.
  • The province still hasn ’t released an estimate of how much the Bradford Bypass will cost.

If you think the Bradford Bypass needs proper study and sober second thought, please sign this letter requesting the province conduct a comprehensive environmental assessment —