Plan to displace Nature Trail for road has stiff opposition

Many residents are worried about the future of the Howard Watson Nature Trail once The Rapids Parkway is extended beneath this overpass on Highway 402. Resident Tom Bernard has started a campaign to halt the proposed road. Dann Cuthbert Photo

Marco Vigliotti

The long-planned extension of The Rapids Parkway on the Howard Watson Nature Trail could lead to other intrusions on the beloved path, warns a man spearheading a campaign to halt the project.

Tom Bernard says building a road over the trail where it passes beneath Highway 402 is a dangerous precedent that would undermine the future of the 16-kilometre linear park.

“Where’s it going to stop?” he asked. “(If) they are going to do it there, they’re going to do it everywhere. Certainly, they can come up with a different road solution.”

Bernard, who lives in the Wiltshire area, uses the trail frequently for jogging and nature walks with his grandchildren.

The road extension proposed would connect The Rapids Parkway – currently a dead-end – with Exmouth Street, as a way to ease traffic congestion in the bustling east-end corridor.

City officials say the trail will continue there in some capacity, but Bernard wants it left untouched.

He has collected over 100 signatures on a new petition calling for preservation of the trail, and plans to go door-to-door in coming weeks to drum up more support.

“I’ve stopped people on the trail to sign my petition,” Bernard said. “One day I had 22 people sign it.”

He is planned to set up a Facebook page soon.

City development manager Mike Berkvens stresses that maintaining the trail is a priority for staff. But part of it will need to be relocated at the highway overpass, he said.

“We have full intent to keep the trail to the same capacity that it is now as far as the surface type and the width.”

The engineering department is looking at moving the path to the west side of the overpass columns to allow for The Rapids Parkway connector, Berkvens said.

The design of the new road has yet to be finalized. As the owner of Highway 402, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, must first sign off on any plan.

Berkvens said the final concept plans could be approved sometime in 2015 with construction expected to start no earlier than 2016.