How Hamilton's emergency detour routes can beat gridlock

After years of discussion, Hamilton has unveiled proposed Emergency Detour Routes to help drivers navigate around increasing common highway collisions that close the QEW or Highway 40 and which paralyze traffic throughout the city

Collisions that close the highways can maroon drivers for four to six hours on Hwy. 403 and the QEW

A fatal collision on the westbound 403 at Aberdeen Avenue created major traffic delays on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

After years of discussion, Hamilton has unveiled proposed Emergency Detour Routes to help drivers navigate around increasing common highway collisions that close the QEW or Highway 403 and paralyze traffic throughout the city.

The proposed routes will guide motorists through alternate routes and city streets then back to the highway to avoid the jam.

Ward 12 councillor, Lloyd Ferguson, says EDRs are long overdue.

“These closures are awful, particularly eastbound,” he said. Ferguson says he received several complaints from residents of his ward about congestion, especially on Hwy. 403, during the past harsh winter.

Countless hours wasted on Ontario highways are typical for Hamilton motorists. When the highway is closed, drivers spend anywhere from four to six hours on Hwy. 403 and the QEW, according to David Ferguson, superintendent of traffic engineering for the city of Hamilton.

Ferguson, member of the working committee comprising of the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), says regardless of the EDR decided upon, it will not result in free flow of traffic, but it will provide relief.

“The goal is to identify the safest and most efficient route to direct road users across the city,” Ferguson said.

A key part of the EDR implementation is providing delay warnings early on to motorists. Currently, the MTO’s message board system does not provide updates on traffic flow for Hwy. 403.

The committee proposed two long distance EDRs during peak hours. The committee is currently reviewing short distance detours. The proposed long distance EDR routes are as follows:

  • For closure incidents on Hwy. 403 occurring between the Lincoln Alexander Parkway and Hwy. 6, eastbound motorists will be redirected to Hwy. 52, then to Hwy. 5, and Hwy. 6 and back to Hwy. 403. Westbound motorists would follow the reverse route.
  • And for Hwy. 403 closures between Hwy. 6 and the QEW, the EDR will redirect motorists to the Linc. Pkwy. and Red Hill Valley Parkway and the QEW  toronto bound, across the Skyway bridge. Westbound motorists would follow the reverse route.

According to OPP’s Staff Sgt. Matt Pivar, delay times are much longer these days, in part, because of an increase in road users compared to a decade ago.

“Drivers don’t adjust to traffic conditions. They don’t slow down when the highway is congested and follow too closely,” Pivar said.

Collision clean-up is also taking longer, says Pivar. After a traffic incident, OPP officers have to gather evidence for court. MTO staff might also have to perform major clean ups where there is a spill, and the coroner’s office may become involved if there are fatalities.

Hamilton police officers often have to deal with the spill over of traffic congestion on city streets. Insp. Randy Graham of the Hamilton Police Service says he is in support of the EDRs.

“People need the information. I support the early variable messaging boards to give people an opportunity to make the choice to take an alternate route,” Graham said.

“The COMPASS system needs to come into the city, there’s other various social media outlets, including GPS systems in people’s cars that can be used. If we do this in a timely manner, we can reduce traffic congestion. This impacts our whole community.”


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