Ontario maps out commitments for northern highways

by John G. Smith, trucknews.com

TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario has released a broad transportation plan for northern reaches of the province, highlighting a series of commitments to widen highways, expand truck parking, and more.

The draft transportation plan, which follows a similar plan developed for southwestern Ontario, highlights earlier commitments to improve travel around remote communities and support economic growth.

(Illustration: Ontario Ministry of Transportation)

“This is an important day for the people of Northern Ontario,” said Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, noting that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work across the province. “What works in Toronto simply doesn’t work in northern Ontario, and how could it?”

Upcoming highway and road projects include widening Highway 11/7 to four lanes between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, widening Highway 17 from Kenora to the Manitoba border, and continuing design work needed to widen Highway 69 from two to four lanes.

The region’s highways account for about 8,400 truck trips per day, each averaging 350 km per day, while commercial vehicles are responsible for 20% of all the kilometers traveled on northern Ontario routes.

Trucks are expected to make up half the volume on the northern highway network in 2041, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation says.

More truck parking

More than 60 projects are highlighted in the document, including plans to build 10 new rest areas, and repair or expand 11 others, by 2025.

The latter work emerged directly from a roundtable discussion hosted by Manitoulin Transport and including other members of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).

“One of the priority items that I heard from trucking stakeholders in the north was the lack of places to safety stop and rest,” Mulroney said, referring to such rest areas as a “basic humanity issue”.

“With regards to the truck parking initiative, that is a very longstanding issue between the trucking industry and all provinces right across Canada,” says OTA president Stephen Laskowski. “This is something that Minister Mulroney seized upon, and dealt with it immediately.

“There’s been a lot of outreach and a lot of action based on that outreach, and that’s exactly what you want to see.”

“Minister Mulroney is one of the most engaged I have ever seen in my 35 years in the industry,” says Manitoulin Transport CEO Gord Smith, noting that the interest is flowed down to all levels of the ministry.”

Other work in the region includes a new commercial vehicle inspection facility along the westbound lanes of Highway 11/17, east of Thunder Bay. Designated spaces for inspections will also be added to select rest areas.

A pilot project launched this year will also identify stretches of Highway 11/17 that will require more snow clearing activity.

Cross-Canada link

Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines Greg Rickford highlighted a push to twin sections of highway 11/17.

“The entire stretch at some point needs to be twinned. Nobody disputes that,” he said, noting that accidents which block the road block a vital Trans-Canada link. “We shut down that highway and effectively close off the link for this great nation.

Actions identified in the plan also include broader provincial initiatives, such as an expanded Ontario 511 service to offer traffic updates, and an anti-trafficking strategy.

“Transportation in the north is not where it needs to be,” Mulroney said. “People in Northern Ontario are frustrated. I understand why.”

The province has committed $625 million to expand and repair northern highways in 2020/21.