Research: Air Quality Impacts of the Bradford Bypass

The proposed Bradford Bypass highway will negatively impact the air quality of residents, though to what extent and where is more difficult to determine. Our research shows that proponents haven’t thoroughly studied these impacts, and attempts to provide some further information regarding what they might be.

This is a post dealing with the impacts that construction of the Bradford Bypass could have on the surrounding community and, more broadly, on the GTA and Ontario.

To view more content related to the proposed highway visit our Bradford Bypass page.

A rendering of what a Bradford Bypass bridge could look like crossing over the East Holland River. Credit SCGC.

New research by SCGC shows that the negative impacts from construction of the Bradford Bypass could be more wide-spread and severe than what is shown by proponents, specifically in the final Environmental Conditions Report.

Two maps were created to illustrate findings, highlighting additional information regarding where these impacts could be felt, as well as the severity of impacts.

The first map identifies Critical Receptor locations in the Bradford area where the impacts from degraded air quality might be most severe, is shown below. The second incorporates the dispersion distances of common contaminants, and combines that with the CR location’s proximity to each other, weighted by proximity to the highway and contamination dispersion areas, to illustrate where the greatest cause for concern might be.

Critical Receptor Map

Traffic related air pollution (TRAP) is both a well-known risk and emerging concern to public health.

The fact of negative health impacts of TRAP, which can be long lasting, cumulative, and severe, is well established among researchers and public health practitioners, though perhaps less well by the public. As the technology of our vehicles changes, however, and as research methods evolve new concerns regarding negative health impacts continue to emerge.

In the Final Environmental Conditions Report (ECR), prepared by AECON for the Ministry of Transportation, 20 Critical Receptor (CR) locations are identified. These are defined in the ECR as, ‘“retirement homes, hospitals, childcare centres, schools and similar institutional buildings” within the Ministry’s Air Quality Guide.”1See page 208 of the ECR, linked above.

We conducted a desktop review, the method used by AECON in ECR for their assessment of CR locations, and found an additional 11 CR locations that match the types outlined above.

We found a further 20 locations within the study area that we believe, while not strictly within the definition, represent locations where risk of health impacts due to poor air quality is heightened, and should thus also be classified as CRs. These include recreational facilities, such as outdoor sports fields, parks, playgrounds, as well as community and recreation centres.

On the map below AECON/MTO identified CR locations are shown in blue, while locations found by us are shown in orange. A triangle indicates retirement homes, cross schools, star daycare centres, and ellipse recreational facilities.

In total 31 additional CR locations were identified where poor air quality could have an out-sized impact on human health.

Mapping showing where critical receptors for air quality impacts were identified by the MTO and AECON, as well as additional locations identified by research conducted independently by SCGC.

This research discovered an additional 31 locations where degraded air quality due to highway traffic could have an out-sized impact on the health of children and other residents.

Click the map to view a larger size.

While research into the health impacts of short-term, high-intensity exposure to TRAP is still emerging, concerns already exist that strongly indicate a prudent approach, mitigating exposure where and when possible, would be wise.

Health Canada, together with the Sport Information and Resource Centre, provide guidance to this effect,2Understanding Air Quality: A Guiding Document for Sport Organizations while recognizing that better understanding remains necessary to protect the health of sport participants.

What should give more cause for concern regarding sport participation among the youth in areas affected by TRAP is that young cardio-vascular systems are still developing. While this may mean there is more capacity for them to develop out of negative impacts, it also means that potential impacts have out-sized influence on physiological development.

Sport participants, furthermore, are more likely to continue to engage in strenuous exercise, and to the extent they do so in areas impacted by TRAP the likelihood of developing negative health outcomes increases.

This all strongly supports, we believe, the inclusion of recreational and exercise facilities in air quality studies and the impacts TRAP may have on human health.

Select locations are highlighted, below, to show instances of critical receptors that were not included in the Environmental Conditions Report.

Hover over the arrow hotspots for a description of the highlighted location.

Henderson Memorial Park, located at Line 9 and Sideroad 10, is a recreational facility that includes a playground, splash pad, sports fields, tennis and basketball courts, and more.

This facility is a prime example of what we believe should be included in the MTOs Critical Receptor air quality mapping, but which is not.

Bradford Children's Academy offers daycare for infants and children, as well as before and after school care for children up to 10 years old.

Website

Holy Trinity Catholic High School has several hundred students, and is one of two secondary schools in Bradford.

Website

Lions Park is one of the most popular public parks in Bradford, with a ball diamonds, outdoor ice rink, basketball and tennis courts, splash pad, and playground.

Numerous public parks like this, where people, including young children, spend significant amounts of time outdoors were not included in the critical receptor research by MTO and AECON on the impacts of poor air quality resulting from construction of the Bradford Bypass highway.

Traffic Related Air Pollution (TRAP) Map

This map shows areas where that risk may be most profound along the proposed route, though there are caveats that should be understood that may increase the severity of risk.

There are two key elements to the map, dispersal zones indicating the extent at which identified TRAPs are reduced to background levels, and an illustration of Critical Receptor locations identified in our Critical Receptor Map.

Mapping showing where critical receptors for air quality impacts were identified by the MTO and AECON, as well as additional locations identified by research conducted independently by SCGC.

This research discovered an additional 28 locations where degraded air quality due to highway traffic could have an out-sized impact on the health of children and other residents.

Click the map to view a larger size.

As with the identification of Critical Receptor locations on the previous map, this map includes locations where people, including children, spend time outdoors, including, in particular, engaged in strenuous activity like sports.

By combining proximity to each other, as well as to the dispersal zones of pollutants, a heatmap is generated to show where exposure is likely to be most severe. While those living within the darker red areas are more likely to be exposed to TRAP, this does not account for more fluid dynamics of weather patterns, which may alter how pollutants are dispersed.

Another caveat is, while the severity of exposure tends to increase with closer proximity to the highway, ultra-fine particulate matter (UFP) is generally dispersed more broadly than larger size particulate matter. UFP is particularly concerning with regard to its impact on health as it is able to easily translocate within the body, passing through tissue and into organs, including the brain.

As a result, a person may experience a high severity of exposure at distance from the highway, somewhat in contradiction to the closer, proximity based, modelling that the heatmap indicates here.

MTO's Future Modelling Based on Faulty Assumptions

The ECR notes that “there are anticipated improvements in vehicles combustion efficiency, with older models retired from the vehicle fleet. Therefore, the expected impact from emissions in 2051 and 2061 should result in greater reductions than present for in the 2041 scenario.”3ECR June, 2023. Page 345

There are two points that need to be made with respect to this.

False Choice Dilemma

First, this argument, as with the entire approval process for this project, comes very close to exemplifying a false dichotomy in the sense that, almost exclusively, the choices are presented as either build a highway to solve an increase in traffic, or don’t build a highway and suffer the consequences of congestion due to increased traffic.

The air quality modelling, and associated assumptions regarding emissions, only hold if a highway is seen as the only solution to enabling transportation in the Bradford area.

Alternatives, such as stronger policy direction in support of complete communities, along with investment in establishing efficient regional and inter-regional transit, ideally with electrified rail, would accomplish transportation objectives, and improve the quality of life in our communities at a cheaper cost and with less emissions than the old build more roads and highways approach.

While there is a nod towards a “no-build” scenario, this is discounted due to an absence of traffic modelling for the projected time horizon.

From our perspective this betrays a lack of interest in finding answers regarding what the impact of this project may be on the health of those living nearby.

Relatively simple modelling can be done based on available population and uptake of either personal vehicles, whether ICE or EV, or uptake of mass- and active-transit options, such as what would be available with a commitment to building 15-minute communities and inter-city rail.

Ignoring, or Unaware of, the Research?

The second point addresses the claim that improvements in combustion efficiency will result in emissions reductions. A similar claim is made by oil companies operating in Alberta’s tar sands, and is effectively an intensity based argument. 

The math here only works to the extent that the number of vehicles, or the number of barrels of oil, remains the same.

Aggregate emissions may be reduced in this case, but if the number of vehicles grows, which is the business case for building this highway in the first place, then the aggregate amount of emissions also grows.

A reliance on the transition from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is implied in this argument as well, and it also needs to be addressed because there is a lot of  misinformation regarding how EVs impact the environment.

Even with a reduction in the number of vehicles travelling over this route, which is highly unlikely to the case since the case for building it in the first place is a projected increase in vehicle use, it is likely that UFP emissions will increase.

Electric vehicles, due to their increased weight, cause far higher amounts of UFP to be dispersed into the environment than lighter vehicles, and than tail pipe emissions from an equivalent amount of ICE vehicles.

Graphic from The Guardian, showing amount of ultra fine particulate emissions due to tires and due to tailpipe emissions. Credit The Guardian.

This graph, from The Guardian, shows how much particulate matter tires produce relative to tailpipe exhaust.

Source: Car tyres produce vastly more particle pollution than exhausts, tests show

Much of the UFP comes from the friction between the tire and the road, with particulate, in effect, being rubbed off the tire and cast into the air. There is also evidence particulate matter from tires is a major source of micro-plastics that are increasingly polluting waterways.

Brake dust is another concern, though evidence is somewhat mixed whether this will increase with EVs, which utilize regenerative braking and so don’t engage brake discs as often.

The MTO/AECOM seem to have either simply ignored these findings, or to be unaware of them. Neither of these positions is acceptable given the public health implications.

A Public Health Approach

The myth that more people means more cars and traffic needs to be dispelled. More people in fact generate the opportunity for more efficient and accessible transit options. All that is needed for this to happen is sound policy and political will.

One of the best choices local governments can make to combat climate change is to increase the density of their communities and move people away from cars and towards active and public transportation.

Pursuing this approach not only improves public health outcomes through more active lifestyles, it also solves the tension that arises when the increase in population drives an increased demand for road infrastructure, which in turn negatively impacts the health of residents.

It is increasingly clear that policies that promote increased vehicle traffic should be seen as a last resort, and implemented only where no other options are possible.

Related Content

Photo of a highway bridge. Credit Ajai Arif.

The Bradford Bypass – Clearing the Air

There are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings regarding the role that highways and cars play in our economy, and the impact they have on our environment and communities. Many of these are coming to the fore with the Bradford Bypass. Here we address some of them.

Read More »
Arial photo of the Holland Marsh, with Lake Simcoe in the distance. Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Bradford Bypass

The provincial government is proposing a highway that would connect the 404 with the 400. The proposed route passes along the northern edge of Bradford, and through portions of the Holland Marsh.

Read More »

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Letter to the Editor

Freedom of Information requests obtained by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition show that the province is not being upfront regarding the Bradford Bypass.

February 20, 2023 - Simcoe County

Letter to editor response to article “No timeline yet for controversial Bradford Bypass project.”

Can we stop pretending that the province doesn’t have answers about its controversial Bradford Bypass project and instead recognize the misinformation for what it is? In the article quoted, the journalist outlines that the project doesn’t have a timeline yet. That is simply not true. They have a timeline but chose not to share it.

Freedom of Information requests by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition show that the province is working on a timeframe of completion no earlier than 2032. These are documents straight from the MTO. The timeframe was corroborated and reported in The Toronto Star and The Narwhal.

It is shameful that instead of answering council’s questions directly, MTO decided that they’d rather not outline that it could be at least a decade before this highway is ready for use, if it even comes.

To those of us who follow this closely, the misinformation and hiding of facts is par for the course. What else haven’t government officials and consultants been upfront about?

Well for starters, the cost.

Infographic showing how much the cost of the Bradford Bypass has ballooned, and what that money could be spent on instead. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

In its recent report of government expenditures, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario notes that the government is vastly under-spending in a number of areas.

We believe that these areas, including health, education, and children’s services, are important and that they should be priorities.

The Auditor General reported that this 16 km highway could cost a staggering $2-4 billion – that’s according to MTO’s own calculations. That’s a whopping $125,000,000 per kilometer you and I will pay for the Bypass. That’s using the lower figure. Use the upper end of their estimates (when’s the last time large construction projects come in on budget?) and you get a figure of a quarter billion dollars, yes $250 million, per kilometer that taxpayers are on the hook for.

We have the internal documents that show the government knew of this new cost in 2021, prior to them ramming ahead with it. Even so, there was no effort to inform the public that the project’s price tag had ballooned at least 300 percent from the $800,000 estimate project staff and Minister Caroline Mulroney were touting.

This project is still almost a decade away before it’s completed. How much more of our tax dollars is this government going to waste on it?

What else have they not been upfront about?

The size of the highway.

We knew there was talk about potentially widening the highway to six lanes. But yet again this seems to be part of an effort to minimize impacts and mislead the public. We know that in fact this may be an eight lane highway – double the size.

This means double the loss of Greenbelt, double the loss of wetlands, double the air pollution and double the noise pollution. Again, this was corroborated and reported in the Toronto Star and Narwhal investigations.

Map showing locations of highways that the Ford government plans to build, and the impact they would have on the Greenbelt and on farmland. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

There are 3 highways in the pipeline for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of Ontario. All of them will significantly impact the Greenbelt, as well as prime farmland.

So instead of the headline making it sound like there’s no information available, let’s call it for what it is – misinformation,obstruction, and wasteful use of taxpayers money by this government. Because, like us, they know that in a time when people are wanting solutions – better healthcare and good use of public funds – communicating the truth of the matter would just expose this highway as another boondoggle – a gas plant scandal in our own backyard.

Auditor General Report Confirms that the Bradford Bypass is a Boondoggle

Media Statement

December 1, 2022 - Simcoe County

On November 30th, the Auditor General of Ontario – an independent officer of the legislature who is tasked with ensuring government spending and programs give Ontarians best value and efficiency – outlined the ballooning costs of the Bradford Bypass and how best practices were not being followed. We’ve been saying this all along.

Internal Ministry estimates show that the Bypass could cost as much as $4 billion dollars. This is a 400% increase from the original budget that the Minister of Transportation begrudgingly announced publicly in 2021 after we demanded transparency around costs of the project. We know from internal documents that the Ministry has known their estimate was a lowball since at least November 2021 and yet there has been no effort that we’ve seen to update municipal partners, local stakeholders or the public about this important piece of information.

The Auditor General also noted that at this point, the Ministry does not have the money to fulfil all of its highway promises. This begs the question of when this project will ever be fully delivered if a cash-strapped Ministry has to start making hard choices about which projects proceed. We have asked when this highway will be completed and ready for use, but again, the answers aren’t forthcoming.

The Bradford Bypass has been sold as a traffic solution. Worryingly, the Auditor General found that travel demand forecasts calculated by consultants are not verified by the Ministry or by independent experts. Despite internal reports that show the Bypass will be congested after construction and that congestion will worsen on highways 400 and 404, the province continues to intentionally mislead Ontarians using unverified traffic studies.

Let’s be clear – the Bradford Bypass was just the first step in opening up huge swaths of land for Greenbelt developers and more sprawl development. The studies they are now doing have been streamlined to a point of being meaningless while other important studies such as impacts to Lake Simcoe and climate are not being done. Protections for our wetlands and waterways have been all but gutted due to Bill 23. Another 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt is slated to be removed to allow speculators to further cash in. The vision that developers want for this region is coming into view and the expense of public health and public funds.

Altogether the province has produced a flimsy case for building this highway. The groups fighting the Bypass are asking for a transparent reconsideration of routes, including regional road improvements, that could reduce costs, provide congestion relief and lower environmental impacts. In all, this provides value for money for taxpayers. Further, we question spending $4 billion on a highway amid healthcare and education sector crises.

Lake Simcoe Watch recently released the results of a November 2022 Oraclepoll survey of which shows that public support for the Bradford Bypass highway (one-third of which traverses Greenbelt Protected Countryside) has fallen to a weak 20 per cent. The same survey shows that support for building homes on the Greenbelt is only 27 per cent.

Related Content

This illustration image of Poilievre combines a frame from a now notorious engagement where he belittled a journalist while eating an apple, with a photo of a forest fire added as a backdrop, in place of the orchard.

Issue In Brief: Understanding the Carbon Tax

The debate around the carbon tax frequently misses its broader economic and environmental benefits. By effectively addressing the externality of carbon emissions, the carbon tax stands as a critical component of Canada’s strategy to combat climate change and promote sustainable growth. Clear communication and understanding of the policy’s benefits, including the progressive rebate program, are vital in navigating public concerns and fostering support for this essential environmental initiative.

Read More »

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Highways are the gateway drug for sprawl and the Bypass is a perfect example. 

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Province rushing Bradford Bypass shows more concern for politics than Lake Simcoe, climate or affordable housing

Bradford – This morning the province announced that it is awarding a contractor for the early works construction for the Bradford Bypass.  These early works are allowed to begin before studies are completed, thanks to an exemption the province gave itself last October. Mulroney announced that construction of the bridge over Yonge Street could begin later this year.

Previous slide
Next slide

Rendering of what a four-lane highway bridge could look like crossing the East Holland River. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

Gord Miller, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, characterized this provincial exemption in a recent webinar, saying:

“This is a violation of international standards. It’s widely recognized that when you’re doing an assessment of an initiative you don’t start until you’ve at least measured all of the impacts to the best of your ability so you can make a rational decision. They are clearly violating that.”

“Highways are the gateway drug for sprawl and the Bypass is a perfect example. Developers own over 3000 acres of land around this highway waiting for the greenlight to destroy more farmland and wetlands.

York Region is planning on destroying 24,589 acres of farmland for new development by 2051, and the Bypass would facilitate the worst of this sprawl in East Gwillimbury.

Supporting the Bypass is contrary to building compact and affordable housing, a healthy Lake Simcoe, a productive agriculture sector and climate action,” says Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. 

Although no one in the government has confirmed the price of the highway, estimates show that Ontarians will be paying anywhere from $800 million to $2.2 billion for this 16 km, 400 series highway. 

This leads opponents to declare that this is a waste of funds that could be better spent elsewhere.

Bill Foster, founder of Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces says, “We are in the sixth wave of the pandemic and our healthcare and education systems are in dire need of investment. 

A destructive highway through the Greenbelt that will pollute Lake Simcoe, a regional economic driver,  is a wasteful and dangerous way to spend limited tax dollars. 

We could save a very small portion of the province a few minutes in driving time or we could provide better healthcare, more nurses, better senior care and more childcare spaces. 

The fact that two Greenbelt highways – the Holland Marsh Highway and Highway 413 – are Premier Ford’s major election planks,  speaks volumes about his priorities to me.” 

Opponents are gravely concerned about how adding more fossil fuel infrastructure will exacerbate the climate crisis.

Margaret Prophet, Executive Director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, “Yesterday, the International Panel on Climate Change outlined how important it is to reduce transportation emissions and how urban areas need to lessen their investment in car dependent infrastructure.  Yet, today, we get a doubling down on a Greenbelt destroying highway that clearly contradicts the spirit of what climate scientists are telling us we need to do. 

It’s clear there’s no intention here to tackle climate change seriously.  We’re still pulling from a 1950s playbook of economic development that created all of this mess to begin with. 

This highway is destructive and costly and it will lock in a style of development that will negatively impact our collective health forever and decision makers don’t seem to care.”

Background

IPCC Report about Transportation (See 10.3)

How Could We Invest This Money Differently?

Related Content

Photo of a highway bridge. Credit Ajai Arif.

The Bradford Bypass – Clearing the Air

There are a lot of misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings regarding the role that highways and cars play in our economy, and the impact they have on our environment and communities. Many of these are coming to the fore with the Bradford Bypass. Here we address some of them.

Read More »
Arial photo of the Holland Marsh, with Lake Simcoe in the distance. Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Bradford Bypass

The provincial government is proposing a highway that would connect the 404 with the 400. The proposed route passes along the northern edge of Bradford, and through portions of the Holland Marsh.

Read More »

Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

Hi there!


Use this form to send an email to our general inquiries address.

Photo of a giraffe's head against a clear blue sky. Credit Gary Bendig.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!

Use this form to send Margaret an email.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!


Use this form to send Adam an email.

Adam-2
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Hi there!


Use this form to send Julie an email.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Thank you for signing up!

Be the change!

You have more power than you think.

Make a choice for a better future.

Donating to SCGC means your impact is local, direct, and helps build better, more sustainable communities in central Ontario.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

A monthly missive, full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, community polls you can vote on, and deep dives into key topics.

Become part of our network. Stay informed. Take action. Protect Ontario.

Friends. Online censorship by unaccountable tech companies, combined with an all-out assault on the Greenbelt by Ontario’s developers/government, make this a perilous time for the future of democracy and the power of the people in Ontario.

We need to build new ways of empowering those who believe in accountability, in a healthy environment, and in communities ready to thrive in the economy of tomorrow.

Join our supporter network and stay informed about efforts and actions to protect the Greenbelt, to build communities that support the health and well-being of people, and to lay the foundations of a resilient, climate friendly future.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name
Address (Optional)
How did you hear about us?(Optional)