The city will be spending some $26 million to assist the province in creating approximately $140 million in renovations to the Highway 401 corridor as it passes through the Forest City.
During the Civic Works Committee meeting on Monday (Feb. 4), councillors voted unanimously to take advantage of the province’s $2 billion initiative to improve the so-called NAFTA highway across Southern Ontario. Locally, the work to create an interchange at Wonderland Road, along with renovations to existing infrastructure at Colonel Talbot Road, Highbury Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway, is estimated for completion by 2016.
Civic Works chair and Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen called the agreement between the city and the province, through the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) “an excellent news story” and something that sets the state for unprecedented growth along Highway 401.
“For 23 cents on the dollar, given the size of this project, it is a very good deal for the city,” Van Meerbergen said. “The net result is we are getting a lot of bang for our municipal buck.”
The city’s portion of the project was set aside, Van Meerbergen said, thanks to the 2009 federal/provincial infrastructure program. Money spent in London on those various infrastructure projects allowed the city to set aside tax dollars until they could be matched with the province on the infrastructure.
Martin Hayward, city treasurer, said the approximately $26 million fund available for the project, which is primarily debt financing, has another two years before “full financing is in place to do everything that is in this report.”
The report presented to the committee stated the Wonderland Road interchange would likely be created first with the city’s portion costing approximately $10 million. The interchanges at Highbury Avenue, Colonel Talbot Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway would cost the city approximately $5 million apiece.
“It will allow for future widening of the highway, and more importantly, a lot of access into the city that will generate economic development,” Van Meerbergen said. “That is the whole rationale for this, to really stimulate economic development by using the NAFTA highway that flows right through our city.”
When asked by Van Meerbergen about how good a deal London is getting out of entire $2 billion project, John Braam, managing director environmental and engineering services, said residents and council should be feeling good. In terms of percentages of the municipal and provincial split, Braam said the city has “a very good deal,” particularly when compared to municipalities in the GTA area who are paying a larger percentage of costs than London is under its arrangement.
Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown also praised the projects — including the $25 million to be spent on bridges overpasses at Pond Mills, as well as CN Rail — but was also looking for clarity on the jobs that could come out all four interchanges.
Braam said he estimated approximately 2,500 jobs related to construction of the interchanges on a yearly basis. Braam reminded the committee the estimate was his and not that of the MTO.
The Wonderland Road project was something Van Meerbergen was particularly excited about as it utilizes what he calls “probably our most neglected, most important asset.
Calling it a “win-win for everybody,” Van Meerbergen said the most important piece of the deal with the province is the leveraging that will allow the project to move forward in the first place.
Stating his own experience in the manufacturing industry, Van Meerbergen said the Wonderland project will have a “huge” impact on not only the exporting of products, but the importing of new business opportunities as well.
“I’m in manufacturing and it is key for us to get our product out on the 401 very quickly, it is like that for many manufacturers,” Van Meerbergen said. “That is very appealing to new businesses looking to situate around the 401 corridor; where they can get good, efficient access, and we are offering that. It is really a leg-up for London.”
Mayor Joe Fontana, who has long championed expansion of the Highway 401/402 corridor, asked for clarification around whether the projects take into account future widening of Highway 401. Edward Soldo, director of roads and transportation, assured the mayor that would be the case, and that the city is also looking at undertaking various road improvements during construction of the interchanges.
In terms of the staggering of the projects, something Fontana called a key to minimizing traffic disruption, Soldo said starting with the Wonderland Road project, construction would be done in a way where detours to existing roadways would be maximized wherever possible.
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