The Greater Sudbury chamber of Commerce is adding its voice to concerns the new Progressive Conservative government may stop work on the four-laning of Highway 69.
In a letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford and signed by chamber chair Michael Macnamara and CEO Debbi Nicholson, the chamber says new spending is frozen on the project is worrisome.
“While your government’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and transparency is encouraging, we are concerned by the review of decades-long commitments to Highway 69,” the letter says. “Highway 69 remains a key transportation priority for all of Northern Ontario. It is the connective highway between Northern and Southern Ontario; it acts as a funnel for Northern commuters travelling south and for business people, tourists, and relatives who travel North; and it is part of the Trans-Canada Highway linking Ontario to western Canada.
“However, despite its importance, Highway 69 remains a dangerous and underfunded thoroughfare, and in critical need of expansion. The four-laning of Highway 69 is essential to the economic health of Northern Ontario, to the safety of drivers on the highway, and to the overall health and connectivity of Ontario.”
The decades-long project to four-lane the road between Sudbury and Toronto is nearing completion, with about $850 million spent since 2003, expanding 132 kilometres of the roadway.
Once work is completed on a 14-kilometre section between Alban and the CN Rail line at Highway 22, there will be 68 kilometres to complete, at an estimated cost of $200 million.
The previous Liberal government said delays in land acquisition, environmental reviews, and agreements with First Nations pushed the completion deadline to 2020.
While the Liberal government set aside money in the budget to pay for the rest of the work, the Tories have frozen spending while it reviews all previous spending promises.
In its letter, the chamber said finishing the work is essential for economic and safety reasons.
“The highway was designed at a time when the majority of freight traffic was still being transported by railways and cannot accommodate the heavy transport traffic that is now the common mode of commercial and industrial freight,” the letter says. “Highway closures due to accidents or inclement weather can result in significant adverse impact on inter/intra-provincial trade, especially for companies that are dependent on 'just in time' delivery to achieve maximum productivity efficiencies.
“Highway 69 is routinely closed for hours at a time due to accidents, adding hundreds of kilometers and several hours of detours to the commutes of thousands of people driving on the highway. Such accidents serve as both an economic and tourism deterrent, and are often fatal due to the nature of the road. We hear far too often in the North of these fatalities and it cannot continue.”
With northern cities other than Sudbury forecasting population declines, the chamber said it's hard enough already to attract residents and businesses to the area “when safe and convenient transportation to southern Ontario is inadequate.
“With the federal government’s changes to aviation regulations risking reduced service in Northern Ontario, building a robust highway connecting Northern and Southern Ontario should be of paramount importance to the provincial government,” the letter says.
“Continued delays in four-laning Highway 69 have real economic consequences for Northern Ontario.
“For reasons stated above, Northern Ontario cannot accept any further delays in this project ... We trust you will take our concerns into consideration and announce your government’s own commitment to completing the four-laning of Highway 69 as expeditiously as possible. We would welcome the opportunity to host you at an event in Sudbury to make this announcement.”