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The Road to Improving Toronto's Gridlock

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Ontario can lead Canada in job creation again, but it's not going to happen without a plan. One of the real, achievable things we can do to get us there is to break traffic gridlock in the economic heart of Ontario: the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

In our latest discussion paper, "Paths to Prosperity: An Agenda for Growth," my party put this forward as one of our key proposals to kick start our economy.

Experts believe that GTHA gridlock costs Ontario's economy $6 billion a year in lost productivity -- and that figure could double by 2015. In practice, this lost productivity means lower wages and prolonged unemployment. And we all know the effects of this gridlock on our families -- missed dinners, soccer games and school plays.

As the Ontario PC Leader and a Niagara MPP, I'm constantly travelling on GTHA highways. I understand how bad they've gotten. I know firsthand the frustration of cancelled appointments and missed time with family. While some commuters are able to rely on the province's GO Train network and TTC subways, these systems have not kept pace with the population growth of the surrounding regions.

Commuters and businesses in the GTHA deserve a world-class integrated transportation system. Instead of seeing solutions from their elected leaders though, GTHA residents have had to endure endless bureaucratic infighting. People and goods are stuck in traffic while political bickering thwarts real accountability and prevents new projects from moving forward. If politicians' words were dollars, we'd have solved the gridlock problem.

Solving this problem requires leadership with a clear vision and a plan of action. Simply put, there are too many transit agencies and politicians responsible for our region's transportation assets, and no single authority we can hold accountable for operating those assets efficiently. We can't solve traffic gridlock without ending the political gridlock.

It's time for the province to seize the wheel. In our discussion paper, the Ontario PC Caucus put forward three ways to streamline the system that moves people and goods across the region.

Our first proposal is to transfer the TTC's current subway and future LRT operations to Metrolinx, the provincial agency already responsible for coordinating transportation across the GTHA. Our vision is to create a seamless experience for commuters by integrating the region's rail infrastructure into a single network. Commuters deserve that simplicity.

The second step would be to expand the regional transportation network by investing in new public transit and better highways.

In the City of Toronto, our expansion priority starts with subways. While some propose surface-level LRTs, this solution would rip up streets and permanently remove car lanes, making congestion worse. Subways, on the other hand, are a once-in-a-generation investment and offer the best long-term return when it comes to speed, quality and value. It's true anywhere you go: world-class cities build subways.

In the 905, we would improve our highway infrastructure, prioritize expanding the regional rail network and support rapid transit projects that feed that network.

Third, we would fully integrate regional transportation assets under the authority of Metrolinx. The GTHA needs a single body accountable for all rail, highways and regional bus routes. Highways like the 427, 404 and Gardiner Expressway are core transportation routes, but some of these highways are managed by the Province, while others are managed municipally. It only makes sense that one authority has the mandate to plan, maintain, and expand these highways.

There will still be a vital role for local transportation authorities in the GTHA. Our vision is that Metrolinx will focus on fixing regional gridlock, while local municipalities continue to be responsible for buses and streetcars. This allows for smarter community planning: if you need a new local bus stop, you shouldn't have to go to Queen's Park to get it.

In the past, governments tended to look at our transit problems in isolation: regional transit, separate from rail, separate from from roads and highways. We know now that we can only solve our gridlock problems by looking at the problem holistically.

These are achievable goals that will help kick start the economy to create jobs and improve the quality of life for Ontarians. Real leadership is needed to improve transit for our province's commuters. Our plan will move us beyond intergovernmental arguing and promote accountability to accelerate transportation decisions.