A county councillor is sounding off on the Highway 7/8 corridor study and suggesting Perth County has been “grossly neglected” throughout the consultation process.
The comments from Coun. Bob McMillan, which were made during last week’s council meeting, came the same week the Ministry of Transportation and consulting company AECOM were meeting with landowners who would be directly affected by what is now the preferred route for the highway – four lanes that run along the existing highway before dipping south to avoid Shakespeare and then further south before connecting with Line 33 (Pork Road).
“We haven’t been directly contacted to give our input,” noted McMillan, “and we have some very serious concerns and reservations about the poor choices that have been made.
“This route in my opinion is very poor planning. Those of us who live near here realize it’s a completely unnecessary section of this highway to be making four lanes.”
At McMillan’s request, the county will ask for a meeting with representatives from the Ministry and AECOM to voice its troubles with the project.
Last week’s meetings with landowners were being held to gather additional feedback “to aid in the development of alternatives and measures to soften potential impacts” of the project, according to a letter sent out by AECOM.
Specifically, landowners were being asked for details of their farm operations and how they have been affected by the existing highway.
Landowners, though the use of a questionnaire, were also asked for suggestions with respect to the use of agricultural equipment along and across the proposed new route relative to safety and road design.
McMillan’s concern is focused on what he called the “senseless, needless destruction of farmland” that would occur if the route moves forward as proposed.
Such planning contradicts provincial policy and the county’s official plan, both of which place an emphasis on preserving agriculture land, he noted.
He is also concerned with how the expanded route will affect response times for EMS and the fire department. Over half of the calls to the Shakespeare station are for traffic accidents on the highway, he noted.
The loss of farmland is also a top concern for Coun. Jim Aitcheson, who questioned how much more land the province will purchase for the new route, noting it already owns additional land along the existing highway that has gone unused.
“I couldn’t get a permit to put up an outhouse on a piece of farmland because it’s restricted, but these guys can come in and wipe out a thousand acres in a heartbeat,” he added.
Aitcheson also questioned why the ministry waited until now to determine which landowners will have to cross the new highway for their farm operations.
Coun. Bob Wilhelm added he doesn’t believe the project necessarily makes financial sense at this point in time given the current economic environment.
“I think we should certainly re-evaluate and do a needs study again,” he added.
Council also appears to have the support of director of public works Matt Ash, who noted he previously “questioned the need for the project entirely” in a letter to the ministry.