Is Lake Ontario the next superhighway?
Ontario’s overloaded roads and rails can only handle so much more congestion
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.