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Red Hill and Trump


Jul 17, 2017


The Red Hill Parkway was born in controversy and continues that history, most recently focused on the large numbers of crashes on the valley expressway and the even greater numbers of trucks. All of this appears to be connected and may shed some light on current US events.

More than any other Hamilton road, the valley parkway is political, steeped in decades of angry debate between multiple factions long before it was opened ten years ago. The idea for an east end expressway across the escarpment arose in the 1950s, but where to put it generated an epic debate where passion and politics overruled engineering and road construction know-how.

That gave Hamilton an ‘expressway’ that follows a route largely determined thousands of years ago by the landscape-carving effects of the waters of a meandering creek. That meant not only more curves than engineers prefer for major highways, but a lot of ups and downs to move motorists from the valley floor to the intersecting roads serviced by interchanges on top of the steep challenge posed by crossing the escarpment.

Additional politics determined that there are six of those interchanges along an eight kilometre stretch – Dartnall, Greenhill, King, Queenston, Barton and the QEW – with each of the latter five sited barely a kilometre apart. That’s also far more than road engineers recommend and has meant that on-ramps from some interchanges complicate drivers’ attempts to take the subsequent off-ramp.

Media attention has focused on pavement quality and lighting, but the basic layout required to build a road down a creek valley may be much more significant. It certainly is more difficult to change. So is the simple fact that most traffic comes off of either the QEW or the Linc – both with higher posted speeds.

Drivers doing their usual 120 km/hr are presented with what seems to be a continuation of the highway. Not surprisingly they tend to try and maintain their speeds with unfortunate consequences. Changing that ultimately that may require stoplights at either end of the valley and other measures beyond signage.

That’s further complicated by thousands of heavy trucks utilizing Red Hill and the Linc as a shortcut between the QEW and Highway 403, as well as a way to avoid the frequent high winds on the skyway bridges. Some city councillors seem surprised by this activity and have ordered staff to do a count, but it was obvious the trucks would be attracted to a route that’s a full nine kilometres shorter than via the skyway.

Friends of Red Hill Valley, one of the groups that opposed the valley route, not only loudly predicted this short-cutting, they even tried calculating the numbers. Volunteers (the author was one of them and also chaired the group at the time) did a 24-hour count at the Freeman interchange in Burlington and found that 4500 trucks a day were shifting between the QEW and the 403.

In 1950s several locations were possible for a north-south expressway but by the late 1970s when the municipal politicians selected a valley route, other potential options such as Centennial Parkway or Kenilworth Avenue (and later Woodward Avenue) featured established businesses and residences. Thus valley defenders were countered by groups based along those arteries and that intensified the politicization of the decision-making.

The provincial government unsuccessfully tried to broker a compromise 60 km arterial road using at-grade intersections and avoiding much of the creek valley. A federal environmental assessment of the project offered a final chance to flag safety issues but councillors spent over $4 million on court action to stop that from being completed.

So Hamilton got an expressway whose route was determined not by professional road engineers but by dueling citizen groups and the politicians responding to them.  South of the border we’re now seeing many other examples of decisions guided by alleged “common sense” trumping science and expertise.

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