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$158M diverted from northern highways projects to southern Ontario, AG finds

The finding was part of the auditor general's value-for-money audit of highway planning and management in Ontario
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OPP respond to a single-vehicle crash at Highway 11/17 near Highway 102 Wednesday morning. (Nicole Dixon, tbnewswatch.com)

The province's auditor general has found that $158 million earmarked for northern highway projects was re-directed to work in southern Ontario.

The finding was included in Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's annual report, which was released last week..

Among the report, Lysyk's team conducted a value-for-money audit of highway planning and management and found that the Ford government re-prioritized four highway projects, which had been deemed have a lower priority ranking, over six projects that had already been approved for funding.

The report also found the government exceeded its planned 10-year budget, and proposed deferring six expansion projects from its rolling 10-year infrastructure plan.

Two of the projects that were put on hold were in Northwestern Ontario, east of Thunder Bay, involving two stretches of Highway 11/17 widening between the city and Nipigon.

One of the four projects that was advanced was work to widen Highway 11/17 between the Kenora and Manitoba border, which government caucus members — including Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford — have signalled as a priority. The auditor general's report said that was viewed as a medium priority project by the ministry. A first contract for one stretch of work was awarded earlier this year.

“We received a strong mandate from the people of Ontario to build," Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a statement. 

"Since day one, our government was clear that we would fill the infrastructure gap we inherited from the Liberals. This includes building new highways. The Ministry of Transportation was clear in discussions with the Auditor General that all the projects she identifies in her report as ‘deferred’ are in fact moving ahead, either through construction, planning or due diligence work.”

During Question Period in Queens Park earlier this week, MPP Kevin Holland (PC, Thunder Bay-Atikokan) discussed highway safety.

“In the last year we have seen an alarming increase of fatal collisions on our roads, particularly in the north," he said. Injuries and fatalities are more likely to occur on a northern highway as compared to a highway in southern Ontario.”

Holland asked Mulroney about the government's plans to enhance highway safety in the north.

In her response, Mulroney said the government has requested proposals for a two-plus-one highway project on Highway 11 in the North Bay area.

But MPP Lise Vaugeois (NDP, Thunder Bay-Superior North) said that doesn't help people in this region, noting that's "11 and a half hours from where we are.”

“Even though it’s touted to do these great things in the north, it has absolutely nothing to do with our situation with 11/17,” Vaugeois said.

“I drive between Longlac and Nipigon, and particularly the section between Nipigon and Beardmore, I think it’s one of the most terrifying stretches of highway that we’ve got in the winter. Although, I would say the Armstrong highway is a close second.”