The Government of Ontario unveiled its first draft of a Regional Transportation Plan for Southwestern Ontario on Friday in London. The plan is meant to “build a better transportation system that will connect individuals, families and businesses in southwestern Ontario,” but when the plan might come to fruition is a question without too many answers.
“People in southwestern Ontario deserve access to a safe and reliable transportation network that gets them to where they need to go,” said Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney in a statement. “Our plan for southwestern Ontario includes real, practical transportation improvements that will connect our cities, towns, villages and hamlets by improving our roads and highways, improving accessibility, and ensuring bus, rail and local transit services are as seamless as possible.”
The government has billed this as “the beginning of comprehensive regional transportation planning for the province,” and focuses mostly on areas west of Waterloo Region along the western end 401 corridor. Among the key actions the Ontario government will look at include widening the 401 between London and Tilbury , widening Highway #3 between Essex to Leamington, reviewing the role of airports in the region, granting $14.8 million to improve public transit through the Community Transportation Grant Program, and creating a task force to work towards integrating and expanding transit across the region.
The Province said that they will also be looking at ways to leverage VIA Rail, and the nearly one million passengers that use it to get to and from southwestern Ontario every year. The report notes that west of Kitchener, the only passenger train service to Windsor is on VIA, and it recommends “working with VIA Rail on the potential to offer train service jointly with GO Transit,” and also work with freight companies to mitigate delays on rail lines.
While this is good news for areas like Chatham-Kent, Leamington, Middlesex County, Owen Sound, Perth County, and Stratford, other people closer to home are not going to be happy. Specific mentions of Guelph are made in regards to upgrades to Highway #6 between Morriston and Guelph, and the expansion of Highway #7 between Kitchener and Guelph. The report calls them “Actions to support a competitive, open for business environment,” but it does not say when construction will begin.
“It’s getting incredibly frustrating,” said Art Sinclair, vice-president of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce to the Waterloo Region Record. “We’ve identified this as a priority project not just for moving people, but moving goods as well.”
Both projects were approved by the Government of Ontario in 2007, but work on the expansion of Highway #7 was frozen after the Ford government took office in 2018. The City of Kitchener invested in improvements to key roads and bridges last year in preparation for construction to begin on the expansion, and the Ontario government has already spent $120 million buying and preparing the necessary properties, including the portion along Woodlawn Road just north of the Hanlon.
“The lack of commitment on Highway 7 confirms what this community is feeling, that this government is putting it on the back burner,” Catherine Fife, New Democrat MPP for Waterloo, told the Record. “It’s a draft plan that reannounces a plan to make a plan.”
In terms of two-way, all-day GO trains, the report does say that Metrolinx will continue “positive discussions with freight rail companies and regional stakeholders” as well as continuing construction on two rail tunnels under Highways 401 and 409 that will accommodate two additional tracks. Still, there are no firm timelines as to when all-day GO service might begin even though in December 2018, then-Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek said that all-day GO would be available by mid-2020.
“Obviously, our government has been very committed to transit throughout Ontario, we’ve got a $28.5 billion investment in subways and transit in Toronto, which is the biggest ever investment in this type of infrastructure in North America,” said Oakville MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Infrastructure Stephen Crawford at an announcement in Guelph Thursday when asked about regional transit.
“Clearly it’s a priority of our government to get people moving quicker, more efficiently, and more environmentally friendly,” Crawford added. “In terms of regional transportation that’s something we’re reviewing right now.”
The full draft plan can be read here, and if you would like to make comment, the Ministry of Transportation is granting that opportunity until March 20. You can click here to give the Government of Ontario your feedback.
Photo Courtesy of the Government of Ontario.