I can understand Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation putting the kibosh on extending the Highway 17 bypass through the Batchewana Reserve in the immediate future, considering the province is awash in debt and that a traffic study says the extension is not presently required.
But I cannot understand its reluctance to provide link funding so that the Black Road portion of the highway can be widened from two lanes to four.
After all, that two-kilometre stretch running between McNabb Street and Second Line is the only part of the highway running through the city that remains two lanes. All the rest have already been four-laned.
MTO conducted a study in the Sault during the summer of 2013 to determine travel patterns for vehicles entering and exiting the city to assist it in planning for what it referred to as “future improvements to Highway 17.”
But as I said in a column in June 2014 after reading the letter Joe Fratesi, then the city’s chief administrative officer, received from Eric Doidge, regional director of the MTO, anything pertaining to the term “improvements” seemed to be missing.
“The study found that the majority of vehicles entering the city represented commuting trips, rather than long-distance travel,” Doidge said. “Consequently only a small percentage of highway traffic (16%) would utilize a future Highway 17 bypass.”
He said results of an examination of Highway 17 through the city suggested the existing route is operating at an acceptable level. Although congestion is starting to occur at main intersections during peak hours, he said based on growth projections the existing route will continue to operate at an acceptable level for the next 20 years.
“Based on these results the ministry has decided not to start route planning and environmental assessment studies for a new route of Highway 17 at this time,” Doidge wrote. “The ministry plans to conduct similar studies in approximately 10 years.”
The MTO regional director met with city staff in June of this year and, according to a report to council by Don Elliott, director of engineering, announced that the ministry remains firm that “it will not be proceeding with environmental assessments or route planning for either the connection of Highway 17 to Second Line or a bypass between Highway 17E and Highway 17N.”
Elliott said Doidge also advised that MTO considers the widening of Black Road to be ineligible for connecting link funding as the widening is primarily due to an increase in local traffic, as opposed to provincial traffic, repeating the mantra it used in the letter to Fratesi.
“Staff respectfully disagrees with the notion that the province is entitled to the available capacity of the road required for provincial traffic and the city must pay for the widening when the capacity is exceeded,” Elliott wrote.
However, he said MTO advised that resurfacing projects may find favour under the connecting link program.
Big deal. The widening of Black Road, as staff wants and what only makes sense, is what is required.
Since the province kicked in heavily for the widening over several years of Second Line East from Garden River Road to Black Road, it doesn’t make sense that it would balk at funding this last stretch of the highway.
It would be one thing if the connecting of Second Line with Highway 17 East or another connecting route were still on the table.
But it has been made clear that they are not, at least not for years.
That being the case, all indications being that the present route will be in play for probably at least 20 years, the MTO should do an about face and participate in bringing to four lanes all portions of Highway 17 running through the city.
However, there may be a silver line in something the regional director said. There still may be an alternative to connecting Highway 17 East with Second Line, that the proposed bypass may indeed be a true bypass by being placed beyond the built-up area of the city.
This, of course, would relieve a lot of the congestion at the intersection of Second Line and Great Northern Road.
Doug Millroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org