March 21, 2022

By Ian Harvey, Contributing Writer

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced plans for a new 400 series highway northwest of Toronto, there were howls of outrage from groups demanding transit instead.

Maybe these critics should have read the announcement more closely, because within the announcement they would have read this: “The (Highway 413) corridor will extend from Highway 400 in the east to the Highway 401/407 express toll route (ETR) interchange area in the west and will include a four-to-six-lane 400 series highway, separate infrastructure dedicated for transit and passenger stations, and intelligent transportation and truck parking.”

It’s also set to be the smartest road in Ontario.

The government says the new highway will bring “relief to the most congested corridor in North America and play a vital role in the province’s plan for economic recovery, growth, and job creation.”

The constant demand for new housing units in the GTHA means those new communities will be looking for ways to commute to work, rest and play, says Premier Doug Ford.

“With Halton, Peel and York regions all set to grow at incredible speed, our government is saying yes to building the roads and highways that will keep these communities moving,” says Ford. “Highway 413 will create thousands of jobs while saving commuters hours of gridlock every day. This project is a key part of our plan that’s building Ontario.”

There are cost estimates, yet but the concept calls for a Transitway as a separate corridor running alongside the highway dedicated exclusively for public transit, such as buses or light rail transit.

Predictably, there was immediate pushback with groups like Environmental Defence. The group already launched a campaign to Stop the 413 – and its related thoroughfare the Bradford Bypass – claiming there’s no planned review of environmental, social and economic impacts. There are also demands it be subject to a climate change assessment.

The government says construction of Highway 413 will support up to 3,500 jobs and generate up to $350 million in annual real gross domestic product (GDP) annually. Also, in a departure from traditional 400 series highways which have focused solely on personal and commercial transport vehicles, there is a multi-user approach from the get-go.

“The Highway 413 project is looking at putting bicycle lanes or multi-use paths on municipal crossing roads,” says Jacob Ginger, senior issues advisor at the Ministry of Transportation. “The team is working with local municipalities to identify these locations and incorporate them into the design of the structures. Municipal transportation plans will be consulted as the cross section of the new structures are refined to ensure the appropriate number of lanes are included.

Also, says Ginger, Highway 413 design recognizes the emerging shift to connected vehicles and is anticipating preliminary design to support vehicle-to-infrastruct connectivity (V2I technology) – in other words – Smart Roads.

“V2I is a roadside unit is installed along the right-of-way and communicates with vehicles to share safety messages,” advises Ginger. “The design team is also considering geometric needs for vehicle platooning.” Platooning is a technology which links a group of vehicles into a virtual convoy, decreasing distances between them allowing them to accelerate or brake in concert, making better use of road space.

However, the Transitway isn’t top of the list, though it is on the radar.

“The transit corridor will include a 60 metre Right of Way running parallel to Highway 413 on the south side of the corridor,” Ginger explains. “Stations will be provided at certain interchange locations to enable connections to local transit services, providing flexibility for buses to leave the transit corridor and use other roadways.”

According to Ginger “Demand for transit along the Highway 413 corridor is expected to grow significantly as the population of the GTA increases over the next 20 years. However, the Transitway is not immediately required and, as such, a cost estimate has not been prepared.”

That said the study for the Transitway is already looking at alignment and possible station locations and that might well consider alternative vehicles (self driving and EVs) and power sources (wind/solar).

“Preliminary design considers the increasing uptake of EVs by planning for charging stations at carpool lots,” responds Ginger.

The Transitway could be an additional safety feature for regular users too because it can provide a faster, unblocked route for emergency vehicles responding to a major event. As anyone who drives 400 series highways knows, traffic jams that result from major incidents often cause back ups for several kilometers which can hamper Police, Fire and EMS responses.

“The Transitway is expected to be primarily grade-separated from local roads and Highway 413, with few permanent connections,” Ginger says. “But consideration will be given to emergency access points.”

The project is part of the 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review: Build Ontario in which the government plans to expand and repair highways and bridges and spur economic growth.

There’s a $2.6 billion funding pot for 2021–22 supporting the Ontario Highways Program with more than 580 expansion and rehabilitation projects, including funding for Highway 413.

The Government of Ontario says “the Greater Golden Horseshoe is one of the fastest growing regions in North America and expects to attract one million new people every five years, reaching nearly 15 million by 2051.”

As such longer term transportation planning is critical and has to start now because by 2031 it is projected traffic will exceed 300,000 vehicle trips per day – traffic which would otherwise jam up Highway 401 and 400.