The mayor of Chatham-Kent's says he has some concerns about the province's plans to reconstruct the a stretch of the 401 Highway through his municipality.
The Ministry of Transportation has launched a detailed design phase for the project, which would have 60 kilometres of the road reduced to a single lane each way for up to three years.
Mayor Randy Hope is concerned that the province has not been listening to local concerns during the planning process.
"I'm hoping that now that the government has its majority and has a four-year mandate, that more ears will listen to what we have to say, and most importantly, let's face it, there's only one taxpayer in the province of Ontario, and we've got to make sure that when we invest money, that there's dividends returned to the communities and to the province," he said.
Widening highway, adding barriers not part of project
The stretch being affected lies between Ridgetown and Tilbury. Widening the highway to six lanes and adding a safety barrier are not part of the project.
Ontario's Ministry of Transportation told CBC News that North American highway authorities have developed a guide to help determine when there's a need for median barriers depending on the number of vehicles passing through the area, the width of the median that separates opposing traffic and the cross median crash history.
"Median barriers were installed on Highway 401 between Windsor and Tilbury between 2005 and 2009," said Liane Fisher, communications coordinator with the ministry. "According to our guidelines, median barrier is not required between London and Tilbury where a wider 15 meter grass median exists. However, when the highway is widened to six lanes in the future, median barriers will be required."
Fisher said the ministry received environmental clearance in April 2009 for the six-laning of Highway 401 from Tilbury to the Chatham-Kent and Elgin County boundary.
"The study recommendations include widening Highway 401 to six lanes with median barriers and improvements at all six of the interchanges located within the project limits. The project is listed in the 2013-2017 Southern Highways Program under Planning for the Future, and has not yet been scheduled for construction."
No interchange at Charing Cross Road
Hope said he's also disappointed that the plans don't call for a new interchange at Charing Cross Road that would allow people direct access to downtown Chatham.
"Fixing it up is OK, but eventually, if we can look at a longer strategy, is how do we spend provincial money that makes dividend returns for the province and for the municipality, and those discussions don't seem to be very fruitful," said Hope.
Fisher said the ministry conducted a study to assess the need for an interchange at Charing Cross Road and determined that it was not necessary "since the Highway 40 and Bloomfield Road interchanges already provide good access to the municipality."
"Based on the distance between the existing interchanges, a new interchange could be accommodated at Highway 401 and Charing Cross Road. However, the financial responsibility for the design, environmental approvals, land acquisition, and construction of a new interchange at this location would rest with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent," she said.
The ministry said depending on funding and approvals work on re-construction of the stretch of 401 highway could start as early as 2015, and is expected to take three years to complete. Work is expected to start at the west end area in Tilsbury.