News / Halifax

Blow. It. Up. Tristan Cleveland on why the planned Burnside Expressway should be stopped before it begins

The proposed highway would plow through Anderson Lake Area Urban Reserve, ruining 1,900 acres of developable land.

The Anderson Lake Area Urban Reserve, future site for the planned Burnside Expressway.


The Anderson Lake Area Urban Reserve, future site for the planned Burnside Expressway.

One of the greatest things Haligonians did for our future in the 1960’s was stop a highway from destroying our downtown. Now, it’s up to this generation to stop the Burnside Expressway from destroying nearly 1,900 acres in the heart of our city.

Anderson Lake Area Urban Reserve is Halifax’s most important place you’ve never heard of. It’s that empty section of trees you drive by on Highway 7 between Dartmouth and Sackville.

It’s the size of the peninsula from South Street to Africville, and could house 50,000 people or more. It is connected to the harbour just 10 minutes from downtown, would fit snugly into our transit system, and is directly next to Burnside, one of the biggest employment hubs east of Montreal.

Where would you rather put 50,000 people? More towers? Distant sprawl? Or on empty land in the middle of the city?

Cutting a highway through the centre of Anderson would be like karate-chopping a wedding cake: no matter how much of it is untouched, 100 per cent will be ruined.

If we need to better connect Burnside to Sackville, let’s build a street, and one that matches what we want to do with this land. And for goodness sakes, yes, that means we have to decide what we want for the land before we spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure through it. Do I have to point that out?

People. They want to spend $150 to $200 million on building a highway on three sides of the massive, 160 acre Anderson Lake, as if lakes in the urban core have no value. Is this 1955?  

And the project won’t even achieve its stated goals.  

The expressway is supposed to relieve traffic on Windmill Road from Sackville to Dartmouth. Experience from other cities has consistently shown—again and again —that people will take advantage of the extra space and drive more, to the point that within five to 10 years, both roads will be just as congested as Windmill Road is today. And those cars have to go somewhere, so to the exact degree the highway serves more traffic, the whole city will be more congested.

Planifax has published a video this week on the Expressway in conjunction with this column. Their co-executive director, Uytae Lee, is frustrated. “I take issue with the idea that more roads lead to less traffic, because we already know it doesn’t.”

Rod McPhail, the former chief planner of Toronto, is the lead for Halifax’s Integrated Mobility Plan. It’s his job to reduce our traffic, and he tells me the Expressway won’t help: “Basically, build Burnside as planned and it will increase travel by car and decrease travel by transit. Both are contrary to the stated goals of the Regional Plan.”

He points out that 75 per cent of trips were made by cars in Halifax in 2006, 77 per cent were in 2011, and by the city’s best estimates, about 80 per cent are today. You may have noticed traffic has become heavy on the peninsula even mid-afternoon. That wasn’t true just a few years ago.

We cannot turn this trend around by spending hundreds of millions on encouraging people to drive more. In contrast, $200 million could go a long ways towards making great bus lanes and commuter rail. That would actually reduce the proportion of trips taken by car while also making the city a better place to live.

Halifax’s Integrated Mobility Plan says this highway is a bad idea. The province should say “Thanks,” and save itself a few hundred million dollars.

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