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All I want for Christmas is…a new highway?

What do you want for Christmas? A new truck? Pay raise? I want a new highway.

What do you want for Christmas? A new truck? Pay raise? I want a new highway.

My wish would benefit not only small carriers, but the entire trucking industry, as well as the city of Toronto, Ont.

Almost every major city in North America has a ring road or bypass as part of its expressway system. Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis, etc., are mostly avoidable. These are not alternate routes, per se, but essential additions to traffic flow for vehicles that don’t need to be right in the city, particularly during rush hours.

Because of these roads, these major centres maintain acceptable traffic flow, because the majority of traffic going through the city centre actually needs to be there. The rest of us go around, –not through – these cities. A ring road in Toronto isn’t possible because of the waterfront, but even an alternative route would be welcomed.

The 407 ETR was a failure, in my opinion. It’s too close to the city, there are too many exits, the start and end points are in high-traffic areas, and the astronomical toll rates prohibit truck usage for most small fleets.

When the 407 was being built, I hauled gravel to it. Back then, it was possible during a three-hour mid-day window to cross the city at a consistent speed. That’s hardly possible at midnight now, and Toronto’s population is expected to grow by 1.5 million over 20 years. A new highway started today, would be too late. There’s no way to add traffic lanes to the 401 from the airport area to Markham, because existing structures won’t allow it.

My fantasy highway would reach far beyond Toronto, offering the side benefit of missing the increasingly congested Cambridge-Kitchener area. One end would be just east of Woodstock, Ont. and the other end at Hwy. 35/115. A true Toronto bypass needs to begin and end far away from the problem area, because the GTA will obviously continue to spread as it grows.

The highway would angle northeast from Woodstock to a point between Elmira and Elora, where it would then parallel itself with Hwys. 9 and 89. It would be limited access, with exits only at major highways.

Because of real estate costs, and accessibilty to small-town customers, most smaller Ontario carriers are situated either north of the 401, or well east of the city. Small carriers from other provinces often pass through Toronto en-route to a destination, rather than Toronto being the destination.

Most of us rarely have a need to be right in Toronto proper. We are forced into Toronto gridlock because for us, there is no other logical route to get to Ottawa, Quebec, or Eastern New York border crossings.

Coming from the U S to points north puts us in the same unnecessary gridlock.

Literally thousands of trucks travel daily through the core of Toronto, from all size carriers, either travelling from north of the city to/from the east, or long haulers, travelling between Eastern Ontario, Quebec, and states from Michigan west. In a perfect world, these trucks shouldn’t be there.

The fantasy highway – besides relieving a lot of Toronto’s gridlock – would have significant environmental benefits.

Imagine the reduction in emissions if those thousands of trucks and cars travelled at a consistent speed, rather than constant starting and stopping. Hasn’t that been the goal of government and industry lately, or have we just been preaching an elaborate sales pitch to sound like we care about the environment?

The downfall of this highway is the 110 extra kilometres added to an east-west trip. However, we already add mileage bypassing most major cities. In those cities, we never consider the extra miles. It’s nothing more than a sensible time – and fuel-saving detour. Toronto traffic is already a nightmare on a good day, so I would consider a longer detour route to be “miles well wasted.”

I already use such a route, which adds about 45 extra kilometres. When travelling from my area to Indianapolis, I cross at Port Huron, Mich., then run I-69 all the way. The computer suggests to travel down through Detroit, then take US24 to Fort Wayne.
Go through Detroit in low traffic, you save a whopping seven minutes and burn slightly more fuel. Go through Detroit in peak traffic, and your short-cut just cost you at least half an hour. Detroit rush hour is a speed bump compared to Toronto’s.

Continue to pay your drivers practical miles if you wish; few would care they drove 110 kms further if their driving time was less and their stress level was lower.

While travelling extra distance is counterintuitive, do we have a long-term alternative? The economic repercussions of 70 kms of gridlock will eventually require drastic measures as Toronto’s congestion increases. I’m no engineer, but I see no other simple alternative.

Politicians would want this to be a toll road. For trucks, how about a “reverse toll?” When equipped with a transponder, miles travelled on this road would be free from fuel tax, much like the NY Thruway miles are free from NY tax.

The goal is to divert traffic from the city, which is as much an advantage and necessity to Toronto and the Ontario economy as it is to trucking companies.

If we’re willing to drive further to alleviate the problem, we shouldn’t be saddled with extra cost. For extra revenue, lease space for several service plazas along the route. A limited access expressway would need en-route services to be effective anyway.

Too much to ask for, Santa?

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