Province unveils new draft transit plan for southwest Ontario

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney releases the draft southwestern Ontario transportation plan in London, January 17, 2020. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

The provincial government’s vision for transportation across southwestern Ontario relies heavily on maximizing existing rail and transit networks, not constructing a new Windsor-to-London high-speed rail line.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney released the province’s first draft regional transportation plan while in London on Friday. The 22-page transit roadmap, named “Connecting the Southwest”, includes such previously announced initiatives as installing concrete barriers on Highway 401 between London and Tillbury, $103 million in funding toward ten London Transit projects, and widening Highway 3 to four lanes between Essex and Leamington.

“We see a vibrant destination in southwestern Ontario with the potential to further grow for the benefit of future generations,” said Mulroney. “Our plan outlines real, practical transportation improvements to better connect our cities, towns, villages, and hamlets. Connecting the Southwest has over 40 actions and commitments for improving public transit to reduce greenhouse gases, for improving passenger rail service, for expanding our highways, for supporting our trucking industry and for making travel throughout southwestern Ontario safer and more convenient.”

As part of the draft plan, the province wants to work with freight line operators to improve track access. It would also like to engage VIA Rail about integrated passenger services with GO Transit with the goal of increasing travel between London and Toronto. A technical review of existing rail lines would examine the possibility of increasing train speeds.

“You see here, for the first time, a willingness to work with existing networks to move things along more quickly than just massive projects that take a very long time to build,” said Mulroney, who added a few digs at the previous Liberal government plan to build a high-speed rail line from Windsor to Toronto.

“There are important regions beyond the borders of the Greater Toronto Area,” Mulroney added.

The Ford government is also seeking to create an “innovation corridor” along Highway 401 between London and Tilbury to test out new technologies including pavement markers to aid autonomous vehicles. Under the draft plan, the old Highway 402 inspection station would be transformed into additional parking for the commercial trucking industry.

For those who prefer commuting by bicycle, the province intends to work with municipalities and the federal government to connect southwestern communities through cycling paths and trails.

A task force with southwestern Ontario mayors and Indigenous leaders to discuss ways to make travel between communities easier is expected to be assembled by the spring.

“We will look at integrating transit fares, coordinating service schedules, improving accessibility, and ensuring that bus, rail, and local transit services are as seamless as possible,” said Mulroney. “Municipal boundaries on a map don’t matter if you are trying to get to work on time or make it to a medical appointment.”

Ontarians are also being given a chance to weigh-in on the new draft transportation plan. The province has launched an online survey that can be found by clicking here. Those interested in providing feedback have until March 17 to complete the survey.

The province is working on similar regional transportation plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as well as northern and eastern Ontario.