Mayors disappointed by province's response to Hwy. 401 concerns

Some eastern Ontario mayors say they're disappointed with how the province has so far responded to their request for changes to highway safety rules following a fatal 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 last winter.

Eastern Ontario municipalities called for new safety measures following fatal collision, chemical spill

Brett Todd, the mayor of Prescott, Ont., said eastern Ontario mayors are frustrated that Ontario's Ministry of Transportation isn't working quickly enough to prevent major crashes on Highway 401 like the one in March 2017 that killed one person and sent 29 others to hospital. (XBR Traffic)

Some eastern Ontario mayors say they're disappointed with how the province has so far responded to their request for changes to highway safety rules following a fatal 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 last winter.

A group of 10 mayors met Monday with representatives from Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to talk about the March 14 crash, which caused a dangerous chemical spill, closed the highway for more than a day and left a tractor-trailer driver dead.

Brett Todd, the mayor of Prescott, Ont., told CBC Radio's All in a Day the group had hoped the province would come armed with political solutions that could possibly prevent future crashes of that scope.

Instead, he said, the meeting didn't play out as expected.

"The focus of the meeting was largely on information, on emergency services, on what's available and so forth," Todd said.

"And while it was good [for us] to establish that dialogue, there's a real sense of frustration with the mayors in the room that we waited six months for this — and we're really still at square one."

Highway shut for more than a day

The pileup between Brockville and Kingston caused the highway to be shut down after fluorosilicic acid spilled from tractor-trailers.

The Kingston General Hospital said they treated 29 patients after the crash. Police described conditions on the highway at the time as a "near-whiteout."

Monday's meeting included representatives from the trucking industry and from the Ontario Provincial Police, Todd said, but it was missing one noteworthy invitee: Steven Del Duca, Ontario's transport minister.

Brett Todd is the mayor of Prescott, Ont. (Town of Prescott)

Todd said Del Duca had notified him that he wouldn't be able to attend, and had promised a personal meeting in the near future.

While he appreciated that gesture, Todd said the MTO needs to speed things up.

"The ministry is still basically, apparently, in an information-gathering stage. And we're already mid-September, and we've got another winter coming down the pipe very shortly."

"It's hard to believe that it took six months to get this meeting today," he added. "There was a lot of frustration in the room."

Solutions in New York?

Todd also said he wanted to know why Ontario's regulations couldn't mirror those of the state of New York, which was able to take tractor-trailers off the interstates during the March blizzard by declaring an emergency.

This is not going away. We're not going to be ignored on this.- Brett Todd, mayor of Prescott, Ont.

"They didn't have an accident like we did, in the exact same storm. So are we talking to New York state about this? We got that answer this morning — and the answer was essentially no," Todd said.

"The OPP's had a bit of a dialogue, [but] nothing from senior levels of government. And that's really where this conversation needs to start."

In an email, MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols said "policy work is underway" on potentially barring trucks from transporting certain goods during bad weather, but any regulatory changes would require "significant analysis and consultation with industry and subject matter experts."

Ontario does not have the power to ban specific types of vehicles or goods from the roads during storms, Nichols said.

The province is also "constantly reviewing" how other jurisdictions, including New York, respond to road safety issues, he added.

Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 401 for more than a day after one of the tractor-trailers involved in the March 14, 2017 multi-vehicle crash leaked a toxic substance. (CBC)

A representative from the Ontario Trucking Association at Monday's meeting did pitch "technological solutions" that could possibly limit tractor-trailer speeds in inclement weather, Todd said, as well as using stronger packaging for dangerous goods.

Ultimately, Todd said, he and his fellow mayors had a united message for the province.

"This is not going away. We're not going to be ignored on this," he said. "And we want some action."