EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
The Bradford Bypass will be costing taxpayers more than the Ford government originally said, the minister responsible confirmed on Thursday.
"The project will cost more than the original estimate the Ministry of Transportation developed years ago," Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in response to a question from The Trillium at a Toronto news conference.
Back in 2021, after officially reviving the long-contemplated freeway, Mulroney had said the government estimated the Bradford Bypass would cost "around $800 million."
The 16.3-kilometre freeway will connect Highways 400 and 404 in Simcoe County and York Region, about 60 kilometres north of downtown Toronto. It's one of the priority infrastructure projects of the Ford government, which has presented the roadway as being necessary to the region given the population growth it's expected to experience over the next few decades. Construction on the bypass hasn't started yet, but has on necessary complementary projects, including a bridge that'll go over the freeway.
Critics of the project have argued it's misguided and that its construction will encourage more people to drive more, instead of reducing gridlock, as the government says.
Opponents of the Bradford Bypass have also long been skeptical of Mulroney's $800-million cost-projection, in part because of estimates made by others.
In 2019, the Toronto Region Board of Trade estimated it'd cost from $1-2 billion. In an audit relying on Ministry of Transportation data, Ontario's auditor general said the Bradford Bypass is estimated to cost $2-4 billion.
While talking about the increased cost of the project on Thursday, Mulroney noted that her $800-million estimate was conceived pre-COVID-19 and before high inflation rates took off during the pandemic.
"We are making progress on our plan to deliver it and... we want to have a competitive procurement process so we can attract as many bidders as possible so we can deliver value for taxpayers," Mulroney said.
The government's project website for the Bradford Bypass says that it intends for the freeway's preliminary design to be completed this year.
A possible roadblock to the project emerged a few days ago when a Federal Court judge declared that federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault was "unreasonable" to deny a request by environmental groups to reconsider his decision to forego an environmental assessment of the Bradford Bypass. According to the groups, they could now resubmit an assessment request, which could require the federal government to undertake one.
There could be a number of different outcomes if the federal government were to undertake an environmental assessment: it could have little impact; it could delay the project, or force it to meet new requirements; or it could force its shelving altogether.
The Bypass underwent a provincial environmental assessment in 1997 and was conditionally approved in 2002. The 2002 conditional approval also required further study. The project was shelved for a while, but the Tories revived it in 2019.
In 2020, the province exempted the Bypass from some of the further study requirements. In 2021, the province passed another regulation further exempting the project from another provincial environmental assessment provided the project's proponents follow certain processes.
—With files from Aidan Chamandy