Premier Doug Ford was in town to announce full funding for the Bradford Bypass, a 16.2-kilometre link that will connect highways 400 and 404.
“With both Simcoe County and York Region expected to grow at incredible speed, building the Bradford Bypass is a no brainer,” said Ford. “Delivering on this and other important infrastructure projects will create good jobs, help stimulate our economy and reduce highway congestion as our government delivers on our mission of building Ontario.”
Last week, the province announced $2.6 billion is being invested in the Ontario Highways Program, which includes the Bradford Bypass and more than 580 other expansion and rehabilitation projects. The province is not specifying how much the bypass project will cost.
While there was speculation last week in an investigative report by the Toronto Star that the bypass would be a toll highway, Ford confirmed today that the highway will not be a toll road.
"I want to be clear, our plan for building roads, bridges and highways doesn't include tolls," he said. "This is the type of real change people can feel, because you should be spending more time doing the things you want, not sitting for hours and hours on end."
"We know that this new bypass help gets people where they need to go much faster, and we know it will help get goods to the market faster," he said.
Jody Mott of the Holland Marsh Growers' Association expressed her appreciation that the project is moving forward.
"This is an essential part of infrastructure that farmers require to ship their produce to help feed over 55 per cent of Ontario and Canada," she said. "Farmers are required to have safe accessible roads to get Ontario's produce to the markets...we should not have to worry about tractors vs. cars, the safety of our farmers, or the commuters."
Ford said the highway is a critical part of building Ontario, and that communities in the area have been asking for the link for decades.
York-Simcoe MPP and Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney said the government is taking population growth seriously, noting without action the projected population for the area will overwhelm current infrastructure.
She says congestion is already a problem for the area and will only get worse in the years to come.
"Over the next two decades, over two million people will call York Region and Simcoe County home, and our roads and highways must keep up," she said. "We know that transit alone is not enough, we must be able to rely on a robust highway network as well."
The Bradford Bypass project is expected to create more than 700 jobs per year on average during construction and generate more than $70 million in annual real GDP. It is anticipated the new highway will see more than a 60 per cent savings in travel time, saving up to 35 minutes on commute times each way, according to the province.
"That's more than five hours back in your week to spend with your loved ones," said Mulroney.
Since being elected, Mulroney said local roads have been the No. 1 issue for her constituents.
"This problem is not new, for decades drivers in this region have demanded a connecting link between gighways 400 and 404," she said.
“Tomorrow’s prosperity depends on getting shovels in the ground today, which is why our government is committed to building the Bradford Bypass and relieving gridlock so drivers spend less time trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic and more time with friends and family,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, minister of finance. “We are steadfast in our commitment to a recovery fuelled by economic growth, which will ensure that the people of Ontario benefit from jobs, prosperity and opportunity.”
The proposed highway will extend from Highway 400 between 8th Line and 9th Line in Bradford West Gwillimbury, will cross a small portion of King Township and will connect to Highway 404 between Queensville Sideroad and Holborn Road in East Gwillimbury.
A preliminary design and environmental assessment in accordance with Ontario Regulation 697/21 for the project is currently underway and is expected to be completed by December 2022.
The expression of interest to deliver early works on the project will be closing this week.
Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor Rob Keffer was happy to hear the news at today's funding announcement.
"Thank you! And that's the main thing I want to say this morning," he said, noting as Bradford continues to grow, so does traffic, clogging up local roads and resulting in speeding on residential streets.
"This lack of an east-west artery hurts our quality of life, it harms our environment, it hurts our downtown businesses, and the ability to revitalize the downtown into a walkable destination," he said. "The Bradford Bypass will unlock employment lands and lock in Bradford's urban boundary, ensuring that we grow in a smart, sustainable, compound way."
In recent months, environmental groups and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner have been raising concerns over the building of the highway, and its long-term effects on the environment.
According to the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, the four-lane highway would negatively impact over 17 hectares of the Holland Marsh, 39 hectares of wildlife habitat, 11 hectares of designated provincially significant wetlands and cut through 27 waterways.
"We need to protect Lake Simcoe, not threaten it," said Shreiner in a separate news conference today.
"Ontario Greens have a better idea. Investing in transit and building affordable and livable communities that crush climate pollution. It’s time to make smart choices that not only protect nature but also improve the health of Ontarians," said Shreiner, calling on Ford to cancel the project.
The last environmental assessment for the bypass was completed almost 25 years ago. When the Ford government committed to reviving the project, it promised to update and restart the assessment currently in process.
"It will take a little bit more time to complete, and we'll be in a position to put shovels in the ground once that EA is complete," said Mulroney.
Critics have argued the highway will cause "induced demand," promoting more urban sprawl.
"Let me just say to those who oppose this highway, (they) should speak to the locals, they know we need it," noted Mayor Keffer.
Ford also said the government has been working with five of the biggest auto manufacturers to help create more electric vehicles that will help combat emissions, and is investing $29 billion in transit.
"I am so excited about the electric battery-operated cars that are going to bring the emissions...down to nothing," he said.
When asked about the sense of urgency for the project in relation to the provincial election coming up in June, Mulroney said there is "no rush."
"The need to build this Bradford Bypass has been around for decades, and we are trying to get it done because we know that the need is great," she said. "I can tell you from the locals living here, it's important we get this construction going."