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Opposing Highway 7&8

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Presentation to The Honourable Jim Bradley, Ontario Minister of Transportation

By the New Hamburg Board of Trade

February 22, 2009

Dear Sir:

The members of the New Hamburg Board of Trade, and the businesspeople and residents of New Hamburg, appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today concerning the Highway 7&8 Corridor Study (Kitchener to Stratford) being carried out under the aegis of your ministry.

Over the past many months, the residents of New Hamburg and area have expressed our deep-felt concern about many of the proposals raised by this study. We have communicated extensively with your Ministry's front-line people on this project, especially Mr. Charles Organ of the Ministry's London office, and Ms. Brenda Jamieson, Consultant Project Manager. We have also worked closely with our M.P.P., Ms. Leeanna Pendergast.

Highway 7&8:

Highway 7&8, from Kitchener to Stratford, changes from a four-lane, divided highway to a two-lane highway to a city street. We understand the Corridor Study, in its progressive phases, has been initiated to address some obvious issues.

  • The highway from Kitchener to the eastern boundary of New Hamburg is a four-lane, divided highway, with a 90kph speed limit.
  • The highway through New Hamburg to the Perth County border is a four-lane highway, 80kph speed limit, with four recently upgraded intersections served by new traffic signal systems. There are also two intersections with no traffic signals. It is important to note that this route is, in fact, already a bypass, built to allow traffic flow on the outskirts of the community. No houses front or businesses exit onto the highway, only the six intersections.
  • The highway from the Perth County border to Stratford is a two-land, 80kph highway with numerous intersections; it passes directly through the heart of the village of Shakespeare, serving as that community's main street, with one stoplight.
  • The highway continues directly into the heart of the city of Stratford, becoming the main drag, Ontario Street.

This synopsis makes it clear that a Corridor Study on this stretch of Highway in fact involves several unique and highly diverse situations. We are here today to address only the New Hamburg situation.

Earlier interventions

  • In the initial stages of the "consultation" process, residents and businesspeople of New Hamburg attended the public meetings, and spoke out quite strongly against any changes to the current route of Highway 7&8 serving New Hamburg. Some also filled out the standard response sheets. We were therefore very surprised to learn from our M.P.P. that Ministry of Transportation officials were reporting that plans including multiple routes for bypasses were "well received". They were not.
  • This led to a more intensified and organized effort to oppose changes to the existing route, led by the New Hamburg Board of Trade, and a large group of area farmers. A petition was collected, and has been presented to you, Minister. Individual letters and emails have been sent to Mr. Organ, Ms. Jamieson, Ms. Pendergast and other key officials. We have consulted closely with our municipal officials in Wilmot township.
  • There were some results from this concentrated communication. Additional consultations were held by the Ministry officials, and I have personally had several lengthy conversations with Ms. Jamieson, and one three-hour face to face meeting with Mr. Organ and Ms. Jamieson.

Initial options

The initial options presented via the public meetings and on the project website proposed several alternative bypass routes for Highway 7&8, as well as retention of the existing route. The bypasses ran both north and south of New Hamburg. The suggestion of developing a bypass was rejected by the entire community of New Hamburg and area ­ by the Board of Trade, which represents approximately 100 of the more than 300 businesses in New Hamburg; by the business community at large (as evidenced in the petition); by the farm community; and by the residents in general. Ms. Jamieson has told me that she has never seen unanimity of this kind concerning a highway route proposal.

Current situation

The MOT options have been narrowed to two.

1) A bypass south of New Hamburg, which carries the highway further away from the town.

2) Retention of the current route. This would seem to answer local concerns, except that the proposal comes laden with options for future development that could harm the town almost as much as a bypass.

Our position

1) The community of New Hamburg is solidly opposed to the creation of any bypass, now or in the future. We hold this position for a number of reasons:

  • Diverting traffic further from the town will damage most or all of our local businesses. The impact on those businesses within sightlines of the highways is obvious. These include automobile dealerships, fast food outlets, and a new, No Frills store. Extensive surveys by one of the auto dealers ­ now John Bear Chevrolet-Pontiac ­ demonstrated that the number one awareness factor for customers was seeing the business as they drove by.
  • Many of the adjacent businesses also depend on the highway for access to transportation routes ­ companies such as Erb Transport, Grant Transport, Ontario Drive and Gear, and more.
  • The impact reaches into the heart of town, as well. New Hamburg has a thriving core of "boutique" style businesses that draw many drop-in customers who discover them through the sheer convenience of turning onto Peel Street, and driving two blocks to the heritage district core. We could cite many businesses that benefit from such trade, especially MeMe's Café, the Waterlot Restaurant, Puddicombe House restaurant and spa, Upper Case Books, Is This Chair Taken ­ not to mention the cluster of stores in the Sobey's plaza also in the heart of the downtown. In all, more than 50 retail and commercial businesses are located in the core; all draw customers from the tourist traffic that "discovers" New Hamburg through the convenient access from the existing highway.
  • The cost of any re-routing of the highway should in itself be prohibitive, since such a project is not necessary.
  • The destruction of farm land involved in building a bypass is unconscionable.
  • Importantly, there is no demonstrated need for change to the existing route (with the possible exception of closing the two, non-controlled access roads). Traffic jams on Highway 7&8 through New Hamburg are completely unknown. Vehicles rarely wait for more than one light change.
  • All changes proposed by the MOT seem predicated on future growth that cannot be demonstrated. Township of Wilmot planning officials, led by Planner Harold O'Krafka and CAO Grant Whittington, insist that the figures that the MOT are using are not valid; they are apparently extrapolated on overall Region of Waterloo growth projections, but do not take into account the reality of traffic flow ­ in other words, there is no reason to expect significantly increased growth to the west of New Hamburg. That is not the current pattern, nor will it be.
  • We have been informed that there is a powerful political lobby from Stratford, seeking an unimpeded four-lane link between Stratford and the 401 (and thus, Toronto), although MOT officials reject this claim. We believe that Stratford and Perth officials should concern themselves with their communities, while those of us who live and work in New Hamburg can best reflect what is good for our community.

2) The community of New Hamburg is also opposed to any plan that would retain the existing route of Highway 7&8 serving New Hamburg, but incorporate changes that would cause the same detrimental effects. For example, Mr. Organ has shared potential future developments that would create overpasses at our key intersections ­ Nafziger, Hamilton, and Peel. He has also suggested that Peel Street, the key access route to the downtown, might, in fact, have no direct intersection with the highway at all, and would be served by service roads. This kind of proposal creates nightmares: the loss of many businesses along the existing highway; the same loss of convenient access to the downtown as detailed above; enormous costs for an unnecessary project.

Our request

We have made the point to MOT officials, on many occasions, that the ongoing study is causing undue anxiety and concern for many New Hamburg businesses. Business owners are unsure of their property values, and their future prospects. New Hamburg is a community in the shadows of the larger cities of Waterloo Region; every commercial success in our town is something to be celebrated.

We ask:

  • That the Ministry of Transportation acknowledge that the recently improved Highway 7&8 configuration adjacent to New Hamburg adequately meets present transportation needs and those of the foreseeable future.
  • That the Ministry confirm that the existing Highway 7&8 route from Nafziger Eoad to the Perth County boundary will be retained for the foreseeable future, and that proposals for bypass routes be abandoned.
  • That retention of the existing route include the retention of same-grade intersections at Nafziger Road, Hamilton Road, and Peel Street.
  • That communication of these decisions be done as quickly as possible to reassure the business community and residents of New Hamburg, and allay the growing anxiety created by the Highway 7&8 corridor study.

Thank you for meeting with us,

  • Paul Knowles, President, New Hamburg Board of Trade, and owner of English Garden Publishers, New Hamburg, and resident of New Hamburg

  • Greg Voisin, owner, Sobey's Plaza, New Hamburg, and resident of Wilmot Township
  • Steve Wagler, co-owner, Josslin Insurance, New Hamburg, and resident of New Hamburg
  • Nigel Gordijk, owner, Common Sense Design, New Hamburg, Director, New Hamburg Board of Trade, and resident of New Hamburg