Feds/Ontario throw $625M at roads and borders

by Ingrid Phaneuf

OTTAWA, Ont. – The federal and Ontario governments announced a $625 million solution to Ontario’s border problems in May, with Ontario’s Tories themselves promising somewhat more vague improvement plans as part of their platform for the to-be-announced provincial election.

The dollars started to fly May 21, with the joint announcement by federal and provincial authorities that $325 million would be invested in 14 projects to improve border crossings in the Niagara and Sarnia regions.

The projects, to be funded jointly by the provincial and federal governments, will cover a range of initiatives aimed at reducing border congestion and expanding the capacity of the existing road infrastructure, explained officials from Industry Canada, Transport Canada and the MTO.

Projects to receive funding include: a new dedicated lane for commercial drivers with FAST cards on the 405 at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge ($51 million); security and technology enhancements and upgrades to the commercial vehicle processing center at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie ($42 million); the widening of the QEW to six lanes from Mountain Road in Niagara Falls to west of Glendale Avenue in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the widening to six lanes of the QEW between the 406 and the Garden City Skyway Bridge through St. Catharines ($108 million); and six projects to improve access to the Blue Water Bridge in Point Edward, Ont. including upgrades to the 401 and the 402 ($110 million).

The remaining $14 million are for something government officials call “contingency fees,” aimed at accommodating design and other changes in infrastructure projects. The funds will not actually be spent unless required.

Be that as it may, the money will come from the Canadian government’s $600 million Border Infrastructure Fund (from the 2001 budget), designed to support the Smart Border Action Plan to reduce border congestion, officials said.

The funding announcement got mixed reviews from the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).

“Both levels of government are following through on their commitments to the major border crossings and to ensuring that the infrastructure is there to facilitate FAST shipments,” said OTA president David Bradley. “The Windsor-Detroit gateway is the single most important border crossing for trade in the world. For Canada it is our economic lifeline. By creating greater freeway access to the border, and providing the potential for additional private sector investments in border-crossing capacity, the infrastructure improvements will significantly improve the flow of trade at Windsor Detroit.”

But he was quick to point out a solution for the Windsor border crossing remained to be found.

“The $300 million has been committed but there’s no plan yet.”

There is currently no freeway access to the border. Instead trucks travel the nine-kilometre stretch between Highway 401 and the Ambassador Bridge via Huron Church Road, where cars, trucks, pedestrians and 16 stop lights create considerable congestion.

The resulting back-ups are measured by the kilometre. Bradley’s point appeared to be taken just a few days later, on May 27, when the governments of Canada and Ontario announced their joint plan for the Windsor border crossing.

The plan includes agreements over jurisdiction: for example, how the province will take responsibility for widening the E.C. Row Expressway between Lauzon and Ojibway parkways, making improvements to the Lauzon Parkway south of E.C. Row Expressway and extending and upgrading the highway from Highway 401 to E.C. Row.

Both governments also promised to work with Windsor and neighbouring LaSalle on improvements to Highway 3/Huron Church Rd., including the grade separation of the Tecumseh Road intersection north of E.C. Row Expressway, pedestrian overpasses at key locations and the grade separation of all major intersections between Highway 401 and E.C. Row Expressway. Also to be built or improved on, and also in cooperation with municipal authorities, are pedestrian overpasses and grade separations at all major intersections between Highway 401 and E.C. Row Expressway.

Other plans on the joint governmental agenda include working with the Canadian Transit Company (operators of Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge) and the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership to build connections to the border crossings. This is concurrent with the Bi-National Planning Process, a project to get players on both sides of the border to work together to facilitate crossings. The hope is that the Canadian joint governmental initiative will accelerate the Bi-National Planning Process, said Canadian government officials.

The governments also said they’d be putting pressure on the City of Windsor to help support the redevelopment of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel plaza.

Of particular importance to carriers and owner/operators are plans from both government levels to promote the development of commercial vehicle pre-processing and staging areas to expedite and improve the flow of trucks across the border.

That will, of course, involve developing and implementing a plan for the deployment of technology to make traffic flow across the border that much easier.

The Windsor announcement came on the heels of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party unveiling of its plans for the future of the province’s roads, in a platform entitled “The Road Ahead.”

The platform basically promised that the Tories, if re-elected, will build new roads with a minimum of tolling.

Included in the party’s plans for Southern and Central Ontario are: extending Highway 404 past Lake Simcoe and building the Bradford Bypass; completing Highway 407 through Durham; widening Highway 401 and making safety improvements across Ontario; building a mid-peninsula corridor linking the GTA and Niagara’s border crossings through Halton, Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula; extending Highway 427 past Barrie; and extending Highway 410 to Highway 89. In Northern Ontario, the PC party plans to complete the four-laning of key highways, including Highway 11 from North Bay to Huntsville; Highway 400/69 to Parry Sound; and Highway 69 from Parry Sound to Sudbury.

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