Campaigners Use Environmental Evidence to Suspend New Highway

13th July 2021

A new 37-mile transit corridor has been proposed to run through the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in the province of Ontario, Canada, including the Vaughan, Caledon, Brampton and Halton Hills regions. Canadian environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defence commissioned Eunomia to carry out an economic quantification of the damages caused by carbon and air pollution emissions from the proposed highway over a 50-year lifetime so they could understand these negative externalities and communicate them with stakeholders.

Environmental Defence published a report on the proposed highway based upon Eunomia’s findings and since then, the Canadian federal government has suspended the province of Ontario’s progress on the highway until they have completed their own environmental assessment.

The 4- to 6-lane, 37-mile highway, known as the 413 or the GTA West, has been promoted as a solution to congestion and to create jobs in preparation for the GTA’s anticipated population growth over the next 30 years, but has been criticised by those who argue that it will result in significant environmental damages, and that longer-term sustainable alternatives have not been fully-explored.

Eunomia’s assessment was based upon the preferred route published in August 2020. The carbon footprint included emissions from highway construction, maintenance, and use phases, with emissions calculated based on assumed carbon emissions per lane kilometre of road constructed, and tailpipe emissions from estimated traffic volumes adjusted for the local traffic mix.

Eunomia’s report also included an analysis of the damage costs related to the estimated traffic-based air pollution, which was modelled using the same traffic-based data used to estimate the carbon impacts from the use phase of the highway.

Two scenarios were modelled: Business-As-Usual, based on the current mix of vehicles on the road and Optimistic Electrification targets being achieved, if Canada reaches federal vehicle electrification targets. For Business-As-Usual, by 2050, vehicles using the highway will emit over 700,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses each year, about the same impact as energy use from 81,000 homes for one year. For Optimistic Electrification of 66% of the fleet by 2050, vehicles using the highway will emit over 350,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses each year. In both scenarios, research estimated over $1.1 billion Canadian dollars of damages from air pollution.

Sarah Buchanan, Ontario Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence said:

“Eunomia’s research and modelling made a huge impact in our campaign. Their work to model the transportation emissions and air pollution from a proposed mega-highway near Toronto played a pivotal role in convincing decision-makers to stop and take a deeper look at the highway’s environmental impacts. Having strong evidence in hand from Eunomia also helped us to raise awareness about the impacts of this highway in the surrounding communities. Their staff worked closely with us to design an effective research plan and deliver strong results.”

Featured images: Environmental Defence Canada