Changes are coming to Ontario’s toll highway and the mayor of Oshawa says they could create traffic chaos in his city.
The Ministry of Transportation has proposed that the planned Hwy. 407 extension be completed in two stages. The first phase would see the highway extended from Brock Road to Simcoe Street in Oshawa, emptying traffic onto Simcoe Street to travel down to the Hwy. 401. The second phase would then connect it from Simcoe Street to Hwy. 35/115. John Henry, the mayor of Oshawa, isn’t happy.
“If you travel down Simcoe Street there are bends and turns. It isn’t a straight road. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” Henry said. “How would you feel having transport trucks travelling straight through the heart of your city?“
According to the Toronto Board of Trade, residents of the GTA face one of the worst commutes in North America, particularly on the 400 series highways. In 2009, the board reported that this congestion costs the region approximately $5 billion annually.
Mayor Henry believes one part of the solution is the 407 extension from Brock Road in Pickering to Hwy. 35/115 near Kirby. The extension was to be completed in full by 2013.
“For the Region of Durham, it is the issue right now,” he said. “Oshawa was designated as an urban growth centre in the province’s Places to Grow plan and the 407 moving across the entire region is essential to that.”
Henry said the Province has changed that plan, however.
“(The Province) promised us, through a public process, that (the extension) would be completed to (Hwy.) 35/115,” he said. “During the entire process a two step-phasing was never mentioned until it was announced in June 2010.”
Kathleen Wynne, minster of transportation, explained in a letter to Mayor Henry that she believed the project must be approached in stages because the Province is coming out of an economic downturn.
“We are going to do it in an affordable, manageable and responsible manner that keeps the public’s interests as our number one priority,” she said. “We are starting with the busiest section immediately, which will benefit the region by serving most of the residents, businesses and commuters.”
NDP MPP and Public Infrastructure Renewal critic Michael Prue disagreed.
“It makes no sense that they will stop the first phase in Oshawa,” Prue said. “If the project stops at Simcoe Street, the City of Oshawa will have to put in extra roads and traffic lights only to remove them in a year or two.”
Henry said it would cost the City of Oshawa $75 million to provide the needed infrastructure and would clog Simcoe Street with traffic.
Minister Wynne was unavailable for comment, however Kelly Baker the minister’s press secretary, said Mayor Henry has misunderstood the Province’s position.
“We have said consistently that the 407 East extension would be built in sections as was the original Hwy. 407,” she said. “We will continue working with local municipalities on how to manage the traffic at the end of the first phase.”
The City of Oshawa launched the RAMP it up! Campaign on Jan. 24, 2011, to petition the province to proceed with the Hwy. 407 extension all the way to Highway 35/115. In the first six weeks of the campaign the City collected 3,000 signed postcards and 1,500 names on an online petition.