Is Lake On­tario the next su­per­high­way?

On­tario’s over­loaded roads and rails can only han­dle so much more con­ges­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - AN­DREW DRESCHEL The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­ 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

For­get roads and rail.

If you re­ally want to gut traf­fic grid­lock in the GTA, high-speed pods whizzing peo­ple through enor­mous tubes un­der Lake On­tario is the an­swer.

Or at least it could be, ac­cord­ing to new Port Author­ity pres­i­dent and CEO Ian Hamil­ton.

While pre­sent­ing an up­date on Port Author­ity ac­tiv­i­ties to city coun­cil­lors on Mon­day, Hamil­ton found him­self ad­dress­ing ques­tions about the un­tapped po­ten­tial of us­ing water­ways as “peo­ple movers.”

At one point he mused over the prospect of one day em­ploy­ing Hyper­loop tech­nol­ogy, cre­ated by Elon Musk, the brainiac co­founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

Hyper­loop aims to rev­o­lu­tion­ize trans­port sys­tems by us­ing mag­nets and air cush­ions to pro­pel vacuum-sealed pas­sen­ger pods through tun­nels or tubes.

“And I think some­thing like that could be 20 years down the road, but it could be a neat way to move peo­ple un­der the lake into Toronto very quickly and ef­fi­ciently,” Hamil­ton said.

Well, there al­ways some­thing to be said for blue-sky­ing, of course. Me, I’m still hold­ing out for those per­sonal jet packs that fu­tur­ists promised us back in the 1960s.

I can’t help won­der though: If we ever do get our rocket belts, will coun­cil turn the wild blue yon­der above the city into com­muter-friendly one-way sky lanes?

On a less spacey note, Hamil­ton’s over­ar­ch­ing point is de­spite the prov­ince in­vest­ing “mind-bog­gling” bil­lions of dol­lars into roads and pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems, con­ges­tion is only go­ing to get worse in the com­ing years ex­cept on good old rolling H20.

“Right now, the only real ca­pac­ity that ex­ists in on the wa­ter,” Hamil­ton said.

“I think there’s lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­crease and move what to­day is mov­ing on the land onto the wa­ter and take ad­van­tage of that ca­pac­ity, whether it be com­muter ser­vices but, more es­pe­cially, on the goods move­ment side.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hamil­ton, grid­locked ju­ris­dic­tions in places like Europe are al­ready look­ing to their wa­ter lanes to ease the pres­sure on their road and rail sys­tems.

“I think that’s where On­tario is go­ing and hope­fully the … prov­ince will come up with a maritime strat­egy to sup­port that, or at least (make it) part of the Greater Golden Horse­shoe mul­ti­modal strat­egy.”

Given that the Port of Hamil­ton is the largest port in On­tario, this city is ob­vi­ously well placed should that par­a­digm shift ever hap­pen.

In­ter­est­ingly, Hamil­ton says the Port Author­ity has al­ready reached out to the pro­vin­cial tran­sit agency Metrolinx — the same peo­ple bring­ing us LRT — to see what could be done to use Lake On­tario for mov­ing com­muters.

“A few years back we did en­gage with Metrolinx to try to fig­ure out whether they would sup­port that type of project as they were devel­op­ing their cor­ri­dors out to­ward Ni­a­gara Falls way and, un­for­tu­nately, they just couldn’t find a busi­ness model that could move pas­sen­gers in that mass tran­sit.”

That’s al­ways been the prob­lem any time the idea of a hov­er­craft or ferry com­muter ser­vice on Lake On­tario has been pro­posed or op­er­a­tional. Over the years sev­eral pri­vate sec­tor at­tempts to use the lake to al­lay con­ges­tion be­tween Toronto and Ni­a­gara have floun­dered. Ob­vi­ously, sea­sonal lim­i­ta­tions are a fac­tor. So is find­ing the right kind and size of ves­sel for what can be a rough pas­sage.

Per­haps the big­gest prob­lem, how­ever, has been tim­ing. Right now Hamil­ton thinks there is a “niche mar­ket” for cross­wa­ter com­mut­ing. But if he’s right that con­ges­tion is only wors­en­ing, ne­ces­sity and fate may be on the lake’s side.

Hamil­ton seems con­vinced that the more glut­ted and grid­locked our ex­ist­ing trans­porta­tion sys­tems be­come, the more we’re go­ing to have to look at cre­ative ways to move peo­ple and goods. “And I think wa­ter is one of them.” Whether that’s above or be­low the waves, time will tell.

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