Highway 7 Pause Adds to Region Transportation Woes

Even as work is proceeding on the expansion of Highway 7 locally, the provincial government is now putting a pause on the project, and now the expansion is in completion limbo “beyond 2021.”

“We are currently reviewing all projects and spending committed to by the last government, and taking the necessary steps to make sure we are best positioned to provide quality, safe and efficient transportation options to all Ontarians,” according to Kersondra Hickey, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation. She confirmed to the Observer that the Highway 7 expansion was one of those projects.

The move is interesting because $120 million has already been sunk into the project, including $70 million in land acquisition, and $50 million in construction costs. The original cost of the expansion was expected to be $300 million, and it was scheduled to take five years to complete. Construction finally got underway in 2015.

More than that, it continues as of the exact moment of this writing. The City of Guelph closed the northern most section of the Hanlon Expressway in October to do work on the underground infrastructure as part of the highway expansion. The project, which also includes the laying of a new section of the multi-use path along Woodlawn Rd  W, will cost the City an estimated $2.5 million.

So where does this leave construction on the highway? According to the Observer, the expansion is listed on an MTO work-plan called “the Southern Highways Program 2017-2021.” as “beyond 2021” in terms of the timeline for completion. The former Chair of Waterloo Region, Ken Seiling, told the Observer that the project is too far along to be cancelled completely.

“I think it’s about looking at the funding,” he said.

Speaking of funding for big infrastructure projects…

Reminder: High Speed Rail’s in Limbo.

It was almost a month ago that the provincial government announced that while the Environmental Assessment for a high speed rail line between Toronto and Windsor will continue, plans to get high speed rail up and going by 2031, with the first phase from Toronto to London to be completed by 2025, are on hold.

“It’s a huge project,” said Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek in an interview with the CBC. “We’ve got to make sure we’re taking the right steps going forward.”

The previous Liberal government had promised $11 billion for high speed rail in their last budget before the election. But last month, the Ministry of Transportation announced that they were expanding the scope of their high speed rail studies to include more VIA trains, more bus transit, or more highway construction. The advisory council on high speed rail led by former Federal Transportation Minister David Collenette has also been disbanded.

“Mr. Collenette and his board were only looking at the high speed rail option,” said Yurek. “We want to make sure we cover all the bases.”

This is not good news for many looking for commuter relief along the 401 corridor, and many municipalities, including Guelph, were putting a lot of eggs in that basket. It was only back in August that the Guelph delegation at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) were sure that everyone was going the same way on high speed rail.

“After we were done with our delegation, and our asks, it was very positive,” Mayor Cam Guthrie told Politico at the time. “Everyone’s on the same page. They do not want anymore gridlock, they understand there’s an economic benefit, they were very positive about what it can do to the economy as well as people’s lives in order to get them home earlier, have dinner with the family, and have a better overall well being.”

The reason for the change may be politics, and not the politics of any “War on Car” arguments. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) came out against the project back in April saying that the creation of a high speed rail corridor put them “at a serious disadvantage.” Of course, many of the MPPs that form the government caucus come from rural areas in southern Ontario.

“When you look at a high speed rail line running from — essentially Kitchener to Windsor in particular — you’re looking at a line that cannot be crossed at a level of crossing,” said OFA president Keith Currie to the CBC. “That essentially is going to be dividing the province in half.”

So long story short: no Highway 7 expansion, and no high speed rail, so congestion relief remains far from being solved for the time being.

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