Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek announces a pilot project to increase speed limits on select 400 series highways in the province, May 10, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Higher speed limits coming to 400-series highways

Starting this fall, drivers will be allowed to cruise a little faster on select 400-series highways in Ontario.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek announced Friday morning three pilot project locations in the province where the speed limit will be raised from 100 kilometres per hour to 110 kilometres per hour.

The planned speed limit bump will begin in mid-September on Highway 402 between London and Sarnia, the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) from St. Catharines to Hamilton, and Highway 417 from Ottawa/Gloucester to the Ontario/Quebec border. A fourth pilot location in Northern Ontario will be announced in the near future.

“Each of these highways were chosen because there is little change needed to be done to them. Their interchanges are properly spaced for making the safest environment as possible,” said Yurek. “In Northern Ontario, there are a couple of highways we are thinking of that are going under construction. So we will come up with one for the pilot in the next month or so.”

The pilot project will coincide with province-wide consultations on how to safely increase highway speeds to align with other provinces. Currently, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan all have maximum speed limits of 110 kilometres per hour or higher. Those consultations are slated to begin within the next few weeks.

Although the speed limit will be raised to 110 kilometres per hour on the three selected highways, the threshold for a street racing charge will remain 150 kilometres per hour, through an amendment to the current law.

Transport trucks will continue to be limited to 105 kilometres per hour, as part of a joint project between the Ontario and Quebec governments.

Yurek, who was joined by Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey and members of the Ontario Safety League and CAA South Central Ontario for the announcement near Delaware, said additional safety measures such as updated signage and messaging will be installed so drivers are aware of the increase. He added other measures being taken to ease traffic congestion throughout the province include stiffer penalties for individuals who drive slowly in the left/fast lane.

“This bill that we have before the legislature, if passed, we are going to be targeting those who like to drive slow in the lefthand lane. We want them to get over to drive where they should be driving in either the centre or the righthand lane and those that want to drive the faster speed limit are going to be able to flow much more quicker.”

Other measures being taken to improve safety on the province’s roads include allowing motorcycles to use high-occupancy lanes, tougher penalties for drivers who pass school buses picking up/dropping off children, a new offence for driving instructors found to have alcohol in their system, and better protection rules for tow truck drivers.

This is the first time highway speed limits in Ontario have been adjusted since the 1970s when they were lowered from 113 kilometres per hour during an oil crisis.

The exact cost associated with the pilot project is not yet known.

“The main cost in the creation of this is changing the speed signs and how the MTO is going to go about making those changes, but we will have a full costing out once we select the fourth highway in the pilot in Northern Ontario. It is going to be fairly minimal,” said Yurek.