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Political Roundup: Premier, ministers highlight road ahead for Ontario at ORBA convention

Angela Gismondi
Political Roundup: Premier, ministers highlight road ahead for Ontario at ORBA convention
ANGELA GISMONDI - Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria and Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma addressed delegates at the Ontario Road Builders’ Association Convention Feb. 5 in Toronto. Ford and the ministers discussed the road and bridge projects underway and coming up in the province.

Premier Doug Ford and his ministers reiterated their commitment to building major roads and bridges in the province during the Ontario Road Builders’ Association’s (ORBA) 97th annual convention.

Held at the Royal York in Toronto Feb. 4 to 6, the theme was Building Momentum, Engaging the Next Generation.

“The government is investing $28 billion over the next 10 years to renew, build and expand roads and highways, including $3.3 billion this fiscal year for hundreds of projects,” Ford told the roadbuilding audience. “It’s never been more important to build transportation infrastructure for our growing province. We need to do everything possible to deliver on the commitment to build Ontario. We need to build more. We need to build faster. We need to get it done.”

Ford talked about some of the road projects that are in his sights.

“Work is underway on a bridge crossing over the future Bradford Bypass,” he said. “In Essex County, we’re widening and expanding Highway 3. This past fall we completed the first phase of work to widen Highway 17 between Renfrew and Arnprior. Last year we approved the terms of reference for the First Nations environmental assessment terms to finally build the all-season road to the Ring of Fire region.”

Construction to widen Highway 400 in York Region is also on track, he noted.

“We need to get Highway 413 built. This highway will reduce travel times by 30 minutes each way, saving drivers up to an hour per day and five hours per week on one of the most congested corridors in North America.”

Ontario has attracted more than $28 billion in automotive and EV investments in the past three years, he added.

“What do EVs have to do with roadbuilding?” Ford asked. “It’s huge.”

Ford talked about the Volkswagon 16-million-square-foot facility, the fourth largest building in the world in St. Thomas, Ont.

“They need roads, they need expansion of the highways,” said Ford. “They’re going to be shipping in items day in and day out so it’s going to be a real boom for everybody in this room.”

Ford said this fiscal year, provincial road and highway investments will create and sustain 15,100 jobs. It’s expected Highway 413 will support an additional 3,500 jobs and construction on the Bradford Bypass will create 2,600 jobs.

“One of your biggest challenges, I hear it right across the province, is finding and retaining talent…especially for all these projects going on because you can’t build roads if you don’t have workers,” said Ford.

“We’re working hand in hand with labour unions, business groups, our colleges and universities to encourage and train more people to work in the skilled trades.”


Transportation minister tackles gridlock

Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria talked about the increasing gridlock in the province.

“You simply cannot fight gridlock without building new highways,” said Sarkaria. “Highway 401 is already one of the most congested highways in North America and with other major highways is quickly reaching a breaking point. Doing nothing is not an option for this government.”

The government is not wasting any time getting shovels in the ground on the Bradford Bypass, he noted.

“Preliminary design, engineering and field investigations for the bypass were completed last month,” said Sarkaria. “We’re working on an RFP to build the first section of the highway and with partners like ORBA by our side we’ll soon be on our way to delivering this project.”

He also announced an update of the Ontario Highways Plan.

“With 650 highway projects happening right across the province this year alone, we are spending almost $3 billion to repair and expand highways and bridges rehabilitation roadwork and bridge work,” he said. “We know the Ontario Highways Plan is a critical resource for builders right across the province.”

He also provided delegates with an early tender call sheet outlining 37 key project the ministry plans to put out over the next three months, a total of $815 million.

“We recognize how much this line of sight and predictability means to all of you,” he explained. “This was in direct conversations with the members of ORBA that we have brought this forward.”


Surma, Lindsay reiterate P3 pipeline priorities

Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma and Michael Lindsay of Infrastructure Ontario updated the P3 pipeline just before Christmas.

“A highlight of our P3 Market Update is we are moving forward with the Yonge North (subway) extension and it will be procured this year in 2024,” she said.

“Since 2020, 30 projects have been completed and again these are our largest most complicated highway, transit, hospital builds; 24 have begun construction; and 30 are in active procurement.”

The government also recently announced $200 million to support water, wastewater and stormwater projects across the province.

“We know that one of the most important things that we can do to unlock growing communities and development and housing opportunities, including attainable and affordable, is to invest in our water infrastructure. It is all aging around the same time,” she said. “Municipalities need to increase their capacity and although $200 million may not seem a large enough pool of funding, I am fighting for more.

“Once unlocking those lands and increasing that water/wastewater capacity, we know that roads will come with that development.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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