Time to move on regional transportation plan, experts say
As advocates eagerly await a glimpse of the province’s new regional transportation plan for Southwestern Ontario, one expert hopes this will mark the beginning of concrete action.
Terence Johnson, president of Transport Action Canada, said he’s been told the report from Ontario’s Transportation Ministry will be released some time this month.
What’s caused a hint of concern, though, is the possibility this soon-to-be-released report isn’t the final draft, he said His organization has heard from ministry officials that another round of consultations is being considered.
“We’ve already told them what needs to be done several times,” said Johnson, suggesting further talks could lead to “consultation fatigue” among participants.
“It really is time to get on with it.” Alysson Storey, founder of the grassroots group Build the Barrier, which is lobbying for concrete median barriers along a dangerous 128-kilometre section of Highway 401 between London and Tilbury, agreed the province has had plenty of time to plan.
“We’re paying attention,” she said. “People in this region are watching.”
Still, Johnson was optimistic about the plan after meeting with the Transportation Ministry’s policy team about two weeks ago.
“We are quite happy with what we’ve heard,” he said Thursday.
Johnson said transportation advocates, along with regional municipalities, believe in using existing rail lines to their maximum capacity, integrating that with bus services and “generally making everything work together.”
According to Transport Action Canada’s latest policy briefing, the most pressing need in Southwestern Ontario is for CN to provide additional train paths to Via Rail on the main line between Burlington, London and Sarnia.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley also called improved rail service crucial for Southwestern Ontario.
“Sarnia only has one train a day now. We used to have four,” he said. “There is a need, especially in the winter months, for seniors, disabled, students, you name it, for reliable, safe transportation.”
Southwestern Ontario residents simply want to get around without any hassle, something Johnson said demands co-operation between different levels of government, service providers and others.
There is a need, especially in the winter months, for seniors, disabled, students, you name it, for reliable, safe transportation. Mike Bradley, Sarnia Mayor
“At this point, we are really pushing for the province to convene a joint powers authority, or some kind of body, for Southwestern Ontario,” he said. “Where the province, Via Rail Canada and municipal transit systems all sit at the same table and plan together services that are integrated.
“This isn’t about trains and buses, this is about people.”
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wasn’t available for comment Thursday because of her appearance at a Windsor-essex Economic Development Corporation luncheon, where she reasserted the province’s commitment to a Highway 3 expansion from Essex to Leamington.
However, Bob Nichols, the ministry’s senior media liaison officer, did promise the regional transportation plan is still on track.
“As noted in the 2019 Fall Economic Statement, Ontario is advancing work on the development of a Southwestern Ontario Transportation plan to be released in fall 2019,” he said in an email.
Bradley said he’s hopeful for a comprehensive transportation report from the government that tackles some of these longtime gaps.
“The region’s been lobbying for years on upgrades for inter-city transportation,” he said. “We are having some progress on inter-city bus service. We expect that Sarnia, Strathroy and London will have a connection starting in the new year.”
Bradley said transportation whether at the local, regional or provincial level - is critical to employment and economic development.
At an event in London Thursday, Monte Mcnaughton, the province’s minister of labour, training and skills development, touched on the province’s economic outlook and fiscal review.
He confirmed plans for the region include expanding highways, including widening a 20-kilometre stretch of Highway 3 between Essex and Leamington from two to four lanes, as well as widening 31 kilometres of Highway 401 between London and Tilbury from four to six lanes.