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Year in Review: Completion of Maley Drive extension top city story of 2019

Year in review: Completion of Maley Drive extension top city story of 2019

No. 1: Maley Drive completion

Long viewed by city planners as the “holy grail” to improve traffic flow in Greater Sudbury, the Maley Drive extension has been in the planning stages for decades. 

Dating back to the 1980s, successive regional and city councils set aside money each year in hopes that one day, federal and provincial governments would step up with their one-third of the funding. After years and years of waiting, Kathleen Wynne's provincial Liberals announced its $26.7 million share in 2014, and was followed by Justin Trudeau's federal Liberals a year later. The project had been broken down into two phases, and the $80.1 million for phase 1 was finally funded between the three levels of government.  

The extension connects Maley to a new road that eventually links up with Elm Street. Traffic moving east-west no longer has to go through the heart of the city using Barrydowne Road or The Kingsway, but can take a route around busy areas. 

Heavy ore trucks now have a route that takes them around those busy roadways. It also gives people heading to and from the Valley another option, and offers more connections to and from New Sudbury with fewer traffic lights and stops.

It also introduced roundabouts to Greater Sudbury – four of them – and despite initial fears about how drivers would adapt, few complaints have been made to the city's 311 main number. Fears about the project going overbudget also proved unfounded, and under the leadership of city roads director David Shelsted, a construction budget surplus of $4 million allowed a longer stretch of Maley to be four-laned. 

After winning the decades-long battle to attract funding from upper levels of government, city council had to contend with critics of the project, both on the left and the right. On the left, critics said building new roads only encourages more people to drive and leads to more traffic. On the right, critics said it would go over budget, and money should be directed instead to repairing existing roads, not building new ones.

City staff have said studies show Maley will ease congestion on the Kingsway and Lasalle – especially Lasalle – reducing road maintenance costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from slow moving traffic. Plans are in place to rezone parts of Lasalle Boulevard to make it more friendly for cyclists and walkers.

And over the next year, data will be collected about the impact Maley has and whether those traffic and pollution predictions pan out. Details on the Maley extension can be found online here.

So long Sudbury Transit, hello GOVA

Long gone are the days when the mysterious orange Sudbury transit buses would appear on a road, seemingly at random, at unknown times and headed to unknown destinations.

OK, maybe transit service was never quite that mysterious, but a long-term effort to boost ridership gained steam in August 2019 when the first major reforms of transit routes and service was implemented.

Spearheaded by new transit director Michelle Ferrigan, the goal was to stem declining ridership – and revenue – that had dipped to about 4.5 million last year, at a time when public transit is seen as an important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change.

"It's going to be a really comprehensive analysis of the current route structure, service levels, population densities and we're going to look at our routes and see if some need to be added, eliminated or adjusted," Ferrigan said in February 2017, as the planning for the changes began.

“We want to gather information from riders and non-riders, just to identify the primary barriers to transit usage.”

A single cash fare of $3.50 was implemented, and the price of monthly passes was set at $88 for adults, $75 for students and $56 for some groups, such as seniors and people on disability pensions.

Transfers now can be used to transfer onto any bus – including return trips – and are good for 90 minutes. While no permanent changes have been made to GOVA's roughly $15 million operating budget, an 18-month pilot project is in place to see the effect on ridership of offering extended service on Sundays and for earlier start times during the week.

New transit hubs opened in the South End and New Sudbury, some underused routes were eliminated or changed, while some busy routes have more frequent service. And transit was rebranded as GOVA – a play on the English and French words for 'go' – with separate designations for the old Handi-Transit (GOVA Plus) and TransCab (GOVA Zone).

Lots more information on the changes can be found here . 

KED battle

While not a whole lot happened in 2019 in terms of construction of the Kingsway Entertainment District, it was a busy year for the KED in the legal system.

The plan to build a $100 million arena, a $60 million casino and a hotel on the site is on hold as opponents fight the plan at the planning appeals level, as well as in Ontario Superior Court. Approved in early 2018, a case management conference was held in August on the planning appeals by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, after a lengthy delay awaiting an upper court ruling that determined the LPAT rules were valid.

The year in the KED began in February with a $100-a-plate fundraiser led by Sudbury businessman Tom Fortin, who is leading the battle and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to try and stop the project.

In April, developer Dario Zulich – who owns the KED land, expect for the arena property, which he sold to the city for a nominal fee – proposed adding the convention centre to the project. Zulich said he could build the centre at the KED for a fraction of the $65 million estimate to put it downtown.

The following month, Fortin said he was willing to take his fight to Superior Court, because he believes it broke the law. Vehemently opposed to the casino, Fortin argues councillors were biased in approving the project, arguing the 2012 motion city council passed signalling it was a willing host to the casino was improper, and new consultations should have been held before the plan was approved in early 2018. 

In June, pro- and anti-KED councillors jostled over asking Premier Doug Ford to intervene to get the legal process moving. Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, who is in favour tried to talk with Ford when he was in town June 20 in Copper Cliff. But Ward 2 Coun. Mark Signoretti and Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland, both strongly opposed, also arrived to counter Leduc.

Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan – a supporter – posted to his Facebook page a picture of Zulich and Ford together at a fundraising dinner, and Mayor Brian Bigger wrote the premier asking for help -- without consulting city council first.

The embarrassing infighting culminated in an May 2020 date for the hearing – more than two years after councillors approved the project. Sudbury.com was able to learn that, after other scandals in which Ford was accused of improperly intervening, the province wanted to ensure it could not be accused of interfering in the appeals process. So a spring 2020 hearing was scheduled, even though LPAT decisions are supposed to be made within a year.

Despite the setbacks – the opening of the arena is not tentatively set for 2023 – Gateway Casinos says it is still committed to the KED, and the councillors agreed to borrow $205 million needed for projects including the KED, the convention centre and the art gallery/library, plus $30.8 million to four-lane MR35 and $5 million for the Place des Arts. Councillors approved the plan because 30-year bond rates were available at 2.63 per cent interest, and the city is able to earn 2.6 per cent return on the money while it sits in a holding account.

The legal battle also paid a short-term benefit this year: money the city set aside to pay the mortgage on the big projects was available to cover most of the city's 2019 operating deficit of $7.3 million.

Finally, in October, Fortin filed his Superior Court application after the LPAT eliminated the bias issue from the planning appeal. The city has also filed its statement of defence, but as of yet, no date has been released about when the case will be heard in court.


Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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