Time to move on re­gional trans­porta­tion plan, ex­perts say

The Beacon Herald - - FRONT PAGE - TREVOR TERFLOTH

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.

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