Over the past few months, the Bradford Bypass, a 16.2 kilometre link between Highways 400 and 404 has been hot topic of discussion.
It was almost two years ago when Minister of Transportation and York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney and Premier Doug Ford stopped by Bradford's Carrot Fest to announce that the shelved project was back on track by beginning a review of the Environmental Assessment for the link, and starting work on the design and engineering.
In a recent poll conducted by BradfordToday, 76 percent of respondents said they were in support of the project, while 16 percent were not. The other eight percent were indifferent. The poll had a five percent margin of error.
BradfordToday had the opportunity to interview Minister Mulroney to find out more about the project's next steps.
What progress has been made since the announcement was made that the Bypass was back on track?
I was thrilled that the Premier came to Carrot Fest to highlight our government's announcement to restart the Environmental Assessment Process for the Bradford Bypass.
Our commitment was highlighted in this year's budget. It's part of our plan to spend more than $21B over the next decade on highway infrastructure projects. In addition, last summer we announced the preliminary route for the project, and currently, the Ministry of Transportation is updating the Environmental Assessment which we anticipate will be completed next year.
Design and engineering work are underway. Early works like land acquisition have already begun and geotechnical work will start around fall 2021.
The most recent piece of news is that the first Public Information Centre was completed, it was a live webinar and the second one is planned for the fall.
When can residents expect to see shovels in the ground?
By early 2022 construction will be able to start on Yonge Street.
We want the Environmental Assessment to be completed, that is critical. We have signs in the ground set up around where the route is, which marks a big step forward.
What is your response to the growing group of citizens who want the project cancelled due to environmental concerns?
Both communities that the bypass would run through, York Region and Simcoe County, want it. York Regional Council voted in favour of it. Mayor Quirk of Georgina supports it as does Mayor Keffer (BWG), who recently shared his letter of support in BradfordToday. There is widespread support for it among representatives and other stakeholders like the Holland Marsh Growers' Association.
We are fully committed to the Environmental Assessment process which was always intended to protect the environment and so, while we are streamlining the EA process, that doesn't mean we are changing the outcome.
I want to be clear, we aren't relaxing any environmental protections, we are just looking for ways to update the EA process that will remain protective of the environment but ensure that we can get this vital piece of infrastructure finally built.
Why was the project not required to have another Federal Impact Assessment done?
I am pleased that The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change decided not to designate the project for a new Federal Impact Assessment. What it demonstrates is the Federal Government's confidence in Ontario's environmental assessment process, which is among the most stringent of its kind.
Will this be a toll highway?
We are still working out the details with respect to new infrastructure but I am pleased that we are moving forward with it. It's something that people have been looking forward to for a long time.
Who will benefit from the building of the highway?
The benefits will accrue to both residents and businesses alike.
Residents of Simcoe County and York Region will benefit the most. They are the ones who live near the proposed route and have been suffering from the effects of congestion.
More than 50 percent of residents of York Region commute out of York Region and there is so much traffic in and out of Simcoe County as well.
The businesses will also benefit. The Holland Marsh Growers' Association is a big proponent of the bypass because they want their goods to get to market.
How much will the Bradford Bypass project cost?
We estimate it will cost around $800 million. But a lot of work needs to be done to refine the cost of the highway.
What are some of the main concerns you hear from residents about traffic and commuting and are there any other plans to address congestion issues within the community?
In terms of the concerns I hear about congestion, as Minister of Transportation, I hear it all the time and something I have to consider on a daily basis because by 2031, the population of just Simcoe County will grow by over 400,000 residents, and the population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe is going to grow as well, so our roads and transportation infrastructure that's already congested is going to get worse if we don't take action.
Part of our government's plan to address congestion is to build highways like the Bradford Bypass but also to invest and build transit infrastructure like the Yonge North subway extension, which will benefit residents of York-Simcoe and to further build on our plan for two-way all-day GO on core sections of the GO network.
It's a multi-modal approach to address congestion but it's a complaint that I hear about on a regular basis and it impacts people's quality of life in a significant way, and that's why we're investing so much in transportation.
When will the highway be ready to drive on?
That is a question I get all the time. We are moving forward with the EA process. We are committed to ensuring that we are good stewards of the environment and so that is why we are proceeding with the update of the environmental assessment process.
My focus now is trying to get shovels in the ground following the completion of the EA process. I hope people will be driving on it as soon as possible but I don't have an estimated completion time right now.
What would you like readers to know about the highway that they may not know already?
I think the takeaway readers should know is that it is happening. It is finally going to get built.
We are putting signs up along the route to give residents some visibility on where it's going to be and give them confidence in the fact that it's going to get built.
It's been a long wait. The Liberals shelved the project under Dalton McGuinty, which Julia Monro had done to move the project forward. I am just very pleased that our government is taking our commitment to building critical infrastructure seriously and I want people to know that it is moving forward.
Where can I find more information about the project?
To learn more and get in touch with the project team, visit the Bradford Bypass website here.