Unsticking the Gridlock at Yonge/401

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

In the coming weeks, conversation at City Council will shift back to the future of Yonge Street and how it best serves our growing community.  This week, we were all reminded of a big project that ties in closely – the access ramp onto Highway 401.

John first initiated studies on how to improve access to the 401 back in 2006, recognizing that the left turn required to get southbound Yonge traffic onto eastbound 401 was an inefficient set-up inadequate to deal with the growing traffic in the community.  The identified bottleneck led to another study completed in 2013 recommending a number of improved onramp options.  The City was prepared to move forward with an Environmental Assessment (EA) at that time. John ensured that the City moved money into its capital budget to pay its share of the cost of construction, just before running full speed into a brick wall.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which holds jurisdiction over all interchanges associated with the provincial highway, firmly blocked progress on this ramp for seven years.  Several new studies were announced, but never completed, allowing the pretense of progress without achieving any.

We, along with the rest of the community, were thrilled this week to receive the news from MPP Stan Cho, that MTO is now ready to allow the City to proceed to an EA and will contribute 50% of the study cost.  We very much appreciate the advocacy Mr. Cho has done in this area.

Though we’ve become used to a slow parade of “new studies” that take years and achieve little, the EA is very different.  It is a critical and mandatory phase of any major infrastructure project, and what we’ve been trying to get going over the past seven years.  This is the process that will select a specific configuration and involve several rounds of public consultation.

John immediately asked me to touch base with Transportation staff to ensure that the City is still ready to go with this green light.  We can report that preparations are already underway to get the EA started and it should be fully up and running by mid-2021, requiring about two years for completion.  This study would be followed by detail design work and then construction.  These future phases would also require MTO permission and cost sharing to proceed so we hope this spirit of cooperation will keep up.

Though we’re still several years out, the good news is that the construction timing is lining up with the reconstruction of Yonge Street, and possibly also the Yonge North Subway extension.  All of these projects will have significant traffic impacts along the Yonge corridor while under construction.  The opportunity to coordinate them, and minimize disruption, is extremely important and makes this week’s announcement all the more timely and relevant.  Ultimately they will all fit together to improve all facets of transportation in our community.