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Published on Monday, November 20, 2017

Province says it has bold transit plans

Ontario's transportation minister talks congestion and climate change in Oakville

Province says it has bold transit plans
— Photo by David Lea/Metroland Media
Ontario's transportation minister talks congestion and climate change in Oakville Ontario Minister of Transportation Stephen Del Duca speaking at Oakville Chamber of Commerce event Nov. 17
By David Lea, Oakville Beaver

To tackle the problem of traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto Area, provincial officials will need to be bold because widening highways alone will not do the trick.

This was the key message delivered by Ontario’s minister of transportation, Steven Del Duca, during luncheon organized by the Oakville Chamber of Commerce on Friday (Nov. 17).

The event attracted around 120 members of the town’s business community to the Oakville Conference Centre.

Del Duca began his presentation by discussing how we came to be in our current situation noting the issue of traffic congestion is something multiple governments have attempted to address.

“At one point we had a provincial government that downloaded responsibility for GO to our municipal partners and when that didn’t work out entirely as they thought it would the responsibility was uploaded again,” said Del Duca.

“We’ve seen critical subways, like the one that was supposed to be built along Eglinton in the City of Toronto, cancelled. As Ontario’s population grew and as more people moved away from jobs in downtown Toronto and out to the suburbs, not only did our commuters’ transit options fail to grow to meet their needs on an ongoing basis, unfortunately those options actually shrank.”

Commuters, he said, faced the unpleasant choice of either braving stop and go traffic on congested highways or taking their chances with a rail system that ran on an inconvenient schedule to a limited number of places.

The minister said Liberal government attempted to sort these problems out when it came to power in Ontario in 2003 through the creation of Metrolinx, a co-ordinating body responsible for building and maintaining transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

The province also invested in the highway network in the GTHA.

Del Duca said right now the provincial government is investing $2.1 billion to repair and expand provincial highways and bridges in every corner of Ontario.

“We widened the QEW, the 401, the 403. We are currently building Hwy. 407 East to connect the original 407 ETR (Express Toll Route) all the way out to the 115. We are closing that loop. We are widening the existing six-lane configuration of the 401 to either 10 or 12 lanes through Mississauga and out to Milton,” said Del Duca.

“That is work that is currently underway because we know there are up to 150,000 vehicles using the 401 in Halton and in Peel every single day and that number is growing quickly.”

While Del Duca said the expansion work is important, he conceded this alone would not solve the congestion problem.

Ultimately, what is needed, he said, to relieve congestion on just the 401 is for one in every five commuters to leave their vehicles at home on a regular basis.

The transportation minister said one way this could be pushed in the right direction is by making regional rail travel more attractive to commuters.

With that in mind, he said the province is currently investing $13.5 billion in an effort to transform GO from a commuter system that operates during peak periods to a fast and frequent regional service.

Del Duca said GO currently serves around seven million people across 11 million square kilometres.

He said the government needs to keep up with the explosive growth taking place in the GTHA, noting that by 2041 the population is forecast to have grown from nine million people to 13.5 million.

Combating climate change was also listed as an important part of the province’s transportation plan moving forward.

To that end, Del Duca said, the province is looking at a number of options including low carbon fuels, electric vehicles and GO Regional Express Rail.

The minister, an electric vehicle owner himself, said the province is working to increase the infrastructure needed make owning such a vehicle more viable.

While he offered no specific date, he said nearly 500 electric vehicle charging stations would soon be built at around 250 locations across Ontario.

He said that in addition to electrifying the GO Transit network, including the line running between Burlington and Oshawa, the province is examining the possibility of trains running on hydrogen fuel cells.

“We will be running electrified GO Trains on our network by 2024-2025 as per the commitment we made to the people of Ontario,” said Del Duca.

“We are going to do it one way or the other. Either with traditional overhead wires or via 'hydrail' (hydrogen-powered rail) because as some of you will know, hydrail, or hydrogen fuel, as a concept is simply just another form of electrification, but hydrogen-powered vehicles also tend to produce the fewest greenhouse gas emissions of any engine.”

The minister said Ontario would need to be bold as it pursues this course noting the province has the opportunity to become a leader in clean transportation.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

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