Burlington Skyway: Traffic boss says he's seen 'nothing like this'

The closure of the Toronto-bound Skyway for four days was longer than any closure in the last 10 to 15 years. Now, Hamilton traffic staff will reprogram some traffic lights in case of a similar event. And the incident could spark new talks on a mid-peninsula corridor between Niagara and Toronto.

This weekend's Skyway closure gave city staff a chance to plan around emergency traffic buildup

The Burlington Skyway closure led to heavier traffic on Hamilton roads. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

This weekend’s closure of the Toronto-bound lanes of the QEW was unprecedented, the city’s traffic czar says.

“I don’t remember any time where the Skyway had been closed like that,” said Dave Ferguson, the city of Hamilton’s traffic engineering superintendent. “Nothing like this.”

Before this closure, the average time the QEW or 403 was closed at one time over the past 10 to 15 years was four-and-a-half hours, he said. Usually those closures are because of wind or collisions.

“That’s a period of time in terms of hours,” Ferguson said. “Here, we were dealing with days. That’ll bring more frustration and more traffic. A very different scenario.” 

The longest Skyway closure before this was 12 hours and 10 minutes in August 2011. The bridge was closed in both directions due to severe winds, lightning and scaffolding falling onto Eastport Drive from the Skyway, according to the Ministry of Transportation. 

Ferguson researched the recent history of closures on both the 403 and the QEW for a recent report about emergency evacuation travel routes.

“When you have an incident like this, the municipality isn’t really able to handle that amount of traffic,” Ferguson said. “We have a fairly good road network. But when you get to a point where you’re looking at 80,000 or 100,000 (additional) vehicles in your municipality, it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re going to wind up with major congestion and delays.”

The incident gave Ferguson's team a chance to see where traffic would build up.

When you get to a point where you’re looking at 80,000 or 100,000 (additional) vehicles in your municipality, it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re going to wind up with major congestion and delays.- Dave Ferguson, city of Hamilton

With the information his team gathered throughout the closure, the city will now identify key heavy routes that were especially affected, like Burlington Street, Cannon Street and Upper James. Then the department will program them into central controls in case a similar event should happen again, instead of sending staff out to manually change the light timings, he said.

The impact to Hamilton and Burlington surface streets, as well as the delays on alternate routes, may serve to reinvigorate talks about a mid-peninsula corridor connecting the Niagara region with the GTA. That’d be a decision for policymakers.

“If you think about if that corridor had been built, what the changes would have been” to the city's traffic woes, Ferguson said. “Maybe that brings up further discussion on this and builds support for the changes. I would hope so. But I don’t make those decisions.”

The Ministry of Transportation released its final strategy report about connections in the region in 2013, says spokesperson Ajay Woozageer​. That strategy includes several options for improving transportation between GTA and Niagara, including widening existing highways between Hamilton and Halton, enhancing transit, widening the QEW to eight lanes between Hamilton and St. Catharines, and building a new highway between the QEW in Fort Erie and Highway 406 in Welland.

Schedules and designs are underway for those options, he said.

"Timelines will be based on provincial infrastructure priorities and the availability of funding," Woozageer said.

"There are no plans to alter or modify these recommendations due to the recent issue."


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