Twinning of 'death highway' a slow work in progress

Municipal officials in Renfrew County are hopeful after recent meetings with the province that work to expand Highway 17 beyond Arnprior, Ont., can become more than just wishful thinking.

There were more than 56 fatal crashes on Highway 17 from 2001 to 2010

By Paul Jay, CBC News 

The above map details all 282 fatal collisions from select highways — or segments of highways — in and out of the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Click on any of the dots to learn more about the collision.

To view the data behind the map, you can also visit the Google Fusion Table here. To view the fusion table as a map, select the 'Map of fatal collisions' tab. To filter the data to look at specifics such as day of week, road conditions, or impaired driving, click the filter tab on the left.

Municipal officials in Renfrew County are hopeful after recent meetings with the province that work to expand Highway 17 beyond Arnprior, Ont., can become more than just wishful thinking.

For years mayors in the region have been calling on the province to speed up the twinning of the Highway to communities like Renfrew, Pembroke and Petawawa.

Locals consider the highway dangerous because it is only two lanes, cuts through many communities and, as it is part of the TransCanada highway network, has a higher than normal volume of trucks on the road.

"People don't call it the 'death highway' because it's bad for tourism," said Deep River Mayor David Thompson. "But it is just not safe."

A CBC News analysis of fatal collisions from 2001 to 2010 found there were 56 fatal collisions from Arnprior, Ont. to Mattawa, Ont. In 26 of those collisions, a large truck or transport was involved.

A Pembroke woman died following a three-vehicle crash northwest of Renfrew along Highway 17 in 2012. The crash occurred the same day officials from Renfrew County were in Toronto to discuss the high rate of crashes on Highway 17.

Loss of rail lines could be leading to more truck traffic

With the loss in 2011 of rail lines from Smiths Falls, Ont., to Mattawa, Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet said the problem would likely only get worse.

"You can't take 1,000 box cars a day... off of the lines and not expect some sort of additional traffic on the two lanes we have," said Sweet.

The province has a plan to twin the highway — adding an extra two lanes and dividing the northwest and southeast-bound traffic — up to Pembroke.

But turning the plan into reality hasn't come as quickly as locals would like.

The highway was twinned to Division Street through the town of Arnprior on Nov. 2012, but the next phase, from Division Street to Scheel Drive in Renfrew, isn't expected to begin construction until next year.

Next phase will see extension of twinning to Scheel Drive

An environmental assessment for the next two phases — from Scheel Drive to Bruce Street in Renfrew — is now complete, but timing of construction is dependent on property acquisitions and future funding. Anything after that is just in the planning stages.

Transport Minister Glen Murray said his government has been committed to the expansion, but hasn't had much support from his federal counterparts.

"I have been pleading with the federal government to match us 50-50 on all our highway programs," said Murray.

Help make our map better

Co-ordinates in the map were plotted from Quebec data using GPS information provided. For Ontario data, the province provided co-ordinates based on its Linear Highway Referencing System, which were the basis of CBC Ottawa's GPS co-ordinate estimates. If you know more information on the exact location of a point in the map, email us at and tell us what you know.

The two provinces also used slightly different terminology to characterize both environment and road conditions and types of collisions. This map reflects our best effort to streamline that information.

Information on whether impaired driving or large vehicles were factors made available from the province of Ontario and may be added later once it becomes available from the Quebec government. Note that if impaired driving was a factor, the map and data does not distinguish which driver or drivers was impaired.

"Where the interstate highway system in the United States is 100 to 50 per cent funded by the national government, right now we're picking up 90 per cent of all of the national highways [in the province]," said Murray.

Murray met with Renfrew municipal leaders on Oct. 22, who not only discussed safety but presented the business case for expanding the highway in the region, highlighting the importance of the military base in Petawawa and Atomic Energy Ltd.'s Chalk River facility and the need to expand the road to accommodate more growth in the region.

Economic case made for twinning

"Twinning also adds to economic development, new homes... it's really been a boon to Arnprior and we want to see it move further west," said Pembroke mayor Ed Jacyno.

Local MPP John Yakabuski said the case has already been made for twinning. Now it just needs to be done, he said.

"If we didn't believe in four-lane highways we would just build a lot of two lanes. The reality is that traffic running in the same direction is safer than traffic running in opposite directions," he said.

Sweet said locally, the county has teamed with the ministry and local Ontario Provincial Police to troubleshoot solutions to areas on the highway identified as problems.

Deep River mayor David Thompson said he'd like to see the province add rest stops along the highway — not necessarily full-service stops like the OnRoute stations, but simply places where drivers can get out and stretch their legs.

"Driver fatigue is a factor, even rumble strips along the centre line may be effective," said Thompson.

"You have to be realistic, four-laning is expensive and it's probably not going to happen in my lifetime," he said.