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Highway 17 closures frustrate local business owners

Road closures this fall on Highway 17 are causing frustration for residents and business owners in northwestern Ontario.

Portions of Trans-Canada highway closed 3 times over last few weeks

Recent closures along stretches of Highway 17 are causing headaches for residents and business owners in northern Ontario. (CBC)

Road closures this fall on Highway 17 are causing frustration for residents and business owners in northwestern Ontario.

Stretches of the highway between Thunder Bay and Kenora have already been closed three times over a matter of weeks.  

A fatal collision late Wednesday night involving two tractor-trailers closed the Trans-Canada from Vermilion Bay to Highway 71 for hours.

Natalie Welniak, owner of Buster's Barbecue on Highway 17, says she feels the highway has not been maintained as well this year as in the past. (Supplied)

The owner of Buster's Barbecue, a restaurant located along the highway 17 in Vermilion Bay, says the closures are cutting into her  bottom line.

“It really has negatively impacted our business. Not to the point where we need to shut our doors, but there is definitely a staggering difference [between this year and last year],” said Natalie Welniak, adding that she loses customers who don’t have extra time to stop and eat after being delayed by closures.

Welniak says she feels the highway has not been maintained as well this year as in the past.

But the mayor of Machin municipality, which includes Vermilion Bay, disagrees.

"Between the weather and the drivers ... [I] blame very little on the road proper,” said Mayor Gord Digman.

He adds that  truck drivers “travelling too close together and going too fast for the road” also contributes to road accidents.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transportation says it is reviewing the road-clearing contractor's operations in the area of Wednesday night’s fatal accident.

Benjamin Bueckert, 57, of Gladstone, Man., was a passenger in one of the tractor-trailers and died in hospital.

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson told the CBC in an emailed statement that "early indications" suggest crews were out Wednesday night and early Thursday morning carrying out winter maintenance operations on that stretch of the highway.

The spokesperson said the ministry reviews contractors' operations whenever there has been a serious incident.

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