Ontario budget invests in highway infrastructure


The Ontario budget, released February 25, 2016, announced the provincial government is heavily investing in highway infrastructure across the province over the next 10 years.

Most regions across Ontario — within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) as well as rural and northern areas — will see a fair share of funding to build, repair and enhance critical infrastructure.

Some major highway projects include:

  • High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes which allow carpooling drivers to continue driving for free, but charge other drivers a toll. As a first step, a 16.5-kilometre pilot project initiative will begin on a section of the QEW between Trafalgar Road in Oakville and Guelph Line in Burlington in the summer of 2016. Information collected through the pilot project will be used to support long-term planning for future HOT lanes, including new, dedicated HOT lanes with electronic tolling on Highway 427, from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road, which are expected to be open by 2021.
  • Highway 400 will be widened from eight to 10 lanes to add a new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction between Major Mackenzie Drive and King Road. This project is scheduled for completion in 2018-19.
  • The 12 km of Highway 410 from Highway 401 to Queen Street in Brampton will be widened from six lanes to 10 lanes by 2018 and will provide HOV lanes.
  • Through the Northern Highways Program, $550 million will be invested in northern infrastructure, including new passing lanes and the rehabilitation and replacement of bridges, in addition to a four-lane expansion of Highway 69 south of Sudbury and Highway 11/17 east of Thunder Bay.
  • In an effort to address a long-time issue of concern among carriers operating in the north, the government will continue to enhance winter highway maintenance, improve awareness for drivers, and verify contractors are meeting ministry maintenance standards. Planned enhancements in 2016–17 include improved road weather information system stations, increased service by contractors through more frequent road patrolling, more reliable equipment, and expansion of the “Track My Plow” website, which enables residents to follow plow services in their communities in real time.

Through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, the province is also providing small, rural and northern municipalities support for road and bridge projects in communities across the province. The OCIF will be expanded to $300 million per year by 2018–19.

A few major projects outside the GTHA include:

  • Advance work to facilitate construction of the new four-lane alignment on Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph.
  • Expansion of Highway 401 from six to 10 lanes from Hespeler Road east to Townline Road in Cambridge, this includes creating HOV lanes.
  • Improving the Highway 417 corridor in Ottawa and widening the Highway 417 Ottawa Queensway corridor.
  • Continued design work for four-laning 12 kilometres of Highway 11/17 and continuing construction of a four-lane divided Highway 11/17 between Thunder Bay and Nipigon to support a strategic link in the Trans-Canada Highway system.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) said it is looking forward to continuing to work closely with the provincial government and stakeholders on establishing provincial programs that spur emission-cutting technologies in the trucking industry and assist truckers on becoming greener.

In the budget, the government formalized its planned cap-and-trade system, which aims to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the cap-and-trade regime, Ontario businesses will have greenhouse gas limits — or caps — and companies who emit less than their established cap can sell or trade credits to companies that go over. The system will directly affect major stationary greenhouse gas (GHG) sources such as fuel producers, which means higher prices for consumers of fuel and other sources of fossil fuel-burning energy. According to the government, the system will increase the price of fuel by an additional average of 4.3 cents per litre and $5 a month on the average natural gas bill. It expects to raise about $1.3 billion in the system’s first full year of operation.

This money would be devoted to programs and initiatives that lower greenhouse gas emissions. Potential investments could include: production and use of renewable, low-carbon, carbon-free and net-zero alternative energy; energy management technologies to support load-shifting and energy storage; infrastructure to support adoption and use of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and low-carbon alternative fuels; active transportation infrastructure that will eliminate or reduce GHG emissions; initiatives relating to the reduction of GHG emissions from industry; support for organizations that develop and deliver financing tools, project aggregation and professional services for GHG emissions-reduction initiatives.

Specifically, the budget announced the government’s commitment to developing programs to help communities partner with utilities to extend access to natural gas supplies, such as through a loan program. The government said establishing natural gas infrastructure attracts new industry, makes commercial transportation more affordable and benefiting agricultural producers.

OTA also continues to work with the government on potential policies that would reinvest the proceeds from the cap and trade system into projects that would accelerate the market penetration of green infrastructure and lower carbon equipment, such as natural gas and electric powered engines and reefers, while also reducing some of the practical and operational barriers that impede investment in GHG reduction technologies.

Additional budget highlights:

  • Streamlined Superload permits: The Highway Traffic Act will be amended to provide more options for escorts of loads and consulting with affected parties to develop a streamlined and more efficient approval process for permits and enhancing superload corridors.
  • Drive Clean: The government says it will eliminate the $30 fee for emissions tests. It’s unclear if that includes commercial vehicles.
  • Ontario Pension Plan: The government officially announced the introduction of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for employers beginning in 2018. There were no specifics about whether that would affect federally regulated carriers. Visit Ontario.ca/orpp for more details.

Visit http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2016/ for more information on this year’s provincial budget.