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Highway 404 corridor extension, Ontario Line expansion among potential long-term transport projects
July 2, 2021

Billed as a roadmap to making Ontario a “world leader in the safe, efficient and sustainable transportation of people and goods,” the Ford government has released a discussion paper outlining potential megaprojects that could stretch across the Greater Golden Horseshoe as part of a 30-year transportation plan.

However, the lofty 34-page document, which contains proposals aimed at improving commutes for residents and the movement of goods such as massive highway corridor expansions and a huge extension of the Ontario Line subway line in Toronto by 2051, fell short on specifics and costs.

“Two-thirds of Ontario’s gross domestic product (GDP) is generated [in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH)]. A well-functioning transportation system is critical to economic prosperity. Time waiting for a bus, time stuck in traffic on the way to meet a client or to make a delivery -- all of these are costs to our economy,” the paper published by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) late Tuesday said.

“Mobility in the GGH is provided by a complex system of provincial, municipal and private sector infrastructure, services and programs. There is a need for a common vision for the region, so that all the investments we are making work together.”

READ MORE: Ontario government introduces bill to speed up construction of GTA transit projects

The government defines the GGH as being roughly made up of Toronto, Niagara Region, Hamilton, Waterloo, Halton Region, Peel Region, Barrie, Orillia, Peterborough, York Region, Durham Region, and Northumberland County.

Officials said in September and October, the government received submissions from more than 2,200 people about the plan and that those submissions helped “inform” the proposals in the discussion paper.

Highways and highway corridors could be widened, see large extensions
In an effort to create what officials described as a “resilient road network” that addresses congestion and has “more efficient freight routes,” there are several proposals that could see new and improved highways across highways.

When it comes to “new planned and conceptual corridors,” the government highlighted its push to build the controversial Highway 413, dubbed the GTA West corridor, as well as the Bradford Bypass connecting Highways 400 and 404.

However, a notable part of the plan in the northern part of the GGH appears to be an extension of the Highway 404 corridor from Woodbine Avenue in East Gwillimbury to Highway 48 in Sutton. An MTO spokesperson told Global News it comes after an environmental assessment was approved in the 2000s and said the extension of the corridor -- which would run through a large swath of rural land -- is important for creating a goods movement link between southern and northern Ontario as well as serving as a potential detour route. It’s unclear if there would be road upgrades on Highway 48 between Sutton and Highway 12 in Beaverton, which was also identified as part of the corridor.

READ MORE: Citing potential environment risks, feds take over assessment of Ontario’s proposed Highway 413

Other new corridors shown on the map include ones between Guelph and Waterloo, Cambridge and Brantford, and a new bypass off Highway 401 connecting to Highway 6 in Puslinch.

The discussion paper contemplates a series of highway lane expansions along with “managed lanes” (toll lanes, bus-only lanes, HOV and HOT lanes or truck-only lanes). The QEW between Burlington and Niagara Falls, Highway 400 between Kettleby and Barrie, Highway 9 between Kettleby and Orangeville, Highway 403 in lower Hamilton as well as between Brantford and the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in Hamilton, Highway 401 between Kitchener and Milton, between Highways 427 and 404 in Toronto and between eastern Pickering and Newcastle, could all see extra lane capacity under the plan.

A map included in the document didn’t differentiate between new and existing managed lanes, but all 400-series highways in the GTA along with the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway were highlighted under this classification.

Expansion of Ontario Line, creation of dedicated Burlington-Oshawa corridor among public transit proposals
As part of the discussion paper, public transit expansion is highlighted in the transportation plan.

In Toronto and the surrounding municipalities, officials propose “exploring” an extension of the Ontario Line (a 15-stop subway line currently under design that’s slated to connect the Ontario Science Centre in North York and Ontario Place on Toronto’s waterfront) to Toronto Pearson International Airport and Richmond Hill Centre.

A map released in the discussion paper also appears to show new “higher-order transit connections” along Steeles Avenue, Sheppard Avenue East, Jane Street, Ellesmere Avenue, McCowan Avenue, Kingston Road and Highway 7. However, there were no specific details about what is being contemplated and the associated corridors weren’t labelled.

Looking at the GTA more broadly, there’s a reference to “exploring a new east-west, cross-regional connection” between Burlington and Oshawa, potentially connecting through possible hubs at or near Toronto Pearson International Airport and Richmond Hill Centre. On a conceptual basis, officials said certain parts of the project could run along the Highway 407 corridor but added a specific alignment has yet to be determined.

Potential new “higher-order transit connections” also appeared to be shown along Hamilton’s A-Line bus corridor, a corridor connecting Kitchener and Cambridge and a north-south corridor in Guelph. In Durham region, there were east-west corridors that appeared to be highlighted along Kingston Road and Bayly/Victoria streets as well as on Simcoe Street in Oshawa. Like other corridors, there were no specific details about what specifically is envisioned and the identified streets weren’t labelled.

In most of the GGH urban areas, the government is looking at ensuring there is “frequent local transit service” with a minimum 10-minute headway as well as ensuring there is 24-hour public transportation access. When asked for more information about increasing local transit, the MTO spokesperson said the overall vision looks ahead three decades and that “this proposed element of the 2051 vision recognizes that the effectiveness of the overall transportation network in 2051 will require widespread frequent local transit services.”

Officials, as part of the plan, raised the idea of integrating fares among the various transit agencies in order to provide “seamless” connections across the GGH. When asked how this proposal might impact fares (e.g. if it will be based on distance) and commuters, the spokesperson said coordinated fares would make interregional travel and transfers “more affordable and convenient” for riders. There weren’t specifics shared yet on how it would be implemented or how such a decision would impact municipal budgets and services.

When examining the broader GGH, there are multiple references to “existing and new regional connections” that are public, private and/or on-demand services. Many of the corridors appear to be currently serviced by GO Transit, but there also appear to be new such connections servicing communities such as Orangeville, Brantford, Scugog, Lindsay, Orillia, Midland as well as several First Nations communities (Six Nations of the Grand River, Hiawatha, Alderville were among the communities highlighted). The plan didn’t break down specifically what is in place currently and what is new nor the exact proposed routes.

Opposition parties say parts of plan from ‘bygone era,’ serves as election document
When it comes to reaction from the opposition to the proposals, the reaction was mostly negative. However, there was some praise for the focus on public transit.

“The Ford government’s proposed highway expansion plans are from a bygone era that will lead to greater congestion and pollution and won’t even shorten commutes. Ontarians deserve an efficient green transportation plan for the future,” Ontario NDP Oshawa MPP and transportation critic Jennifer French told Global News in a statement late Wednesday, adding there should be a priority on transit.

“Ontario must move people and goods efficiently and take meaningful action against climate change. These two goals are tied together.”

Green Party of Ontario leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner described the public transit measures as a “positive step,” but said the government’s “obsession with new highways through the Greenbelt” hinders the GGH plan.

“Ford needs to stop pushing through ill-advised highways like Highway 413 and the Holland Marsh Highway,” he said in a statement, while also calling for reducing sprawl and creating “smart” density.

“We don’t need more four-lane highways and cars on the road that will pump more pollution into the air. And we especially don’t need highways that will cut through the Greenbelt, farmlands and wetlands.

Ontario Liberal Party leader Steven Del Duca dismissed the discussion paper, calling it more of a “campaign document” versus a “serious look” at what’s needed for transportation across the GGH.

“It doesn’t include any of the details on how to make it happen. Ontarians deserve a government that takes their transportation needs seriously,” he said in a statement.

“Maybe if Doug Ford was less focused on pushing ahead with Highway 413, we could see real action on important projects in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and across Ontario.”

What’s next?
As for how all of these proposals might be paid for if ultimately adopted, the document and officials didn’t have a lot of specific details when asked by Global News. However, ministry staff said the final cost will come down to the design of each project, how those projects could be built and financed and “complementary policies.”

“MTO and its partners spend billions of dollars annually on transportation infrastructure and services in the region, and a coordinated integrated long-term plan can help ensure these investments are aligned towards a shared vision,” a spokesperson wrote.

Meanwhile, the government opened public consultation and an online survey for residents on Wednesday that will be available until Aug. 28.

According to the documents, the GGH transportation plan will be released later in 2021 after public comments are received.