MPP for York-Simcoe and Minister of Transportation and Minister of Francophone Affairs
One of the most significant, and long-awaited, transportation infrastructure projects to be undertaken in the BWG region is the proposed road bypass linking Highway 400 to Highway 404.
Known as the Highway 400-404 Link or Bradford Bypass, this project is expected to have a significant and positive impact on the entire BWG community, by enhancing travel opportunities for residents, reducing traffic congestion in the downtown core and providing improved access for locally-produced goods and services.
The BWG Office of Economic Development had an opportunity to interview the area’s local MPP, Progressive Conservative Caroline Mulroney, who fortuitously also happens to be the Ontario Minister of Transportation, about the new 400-400 Link. A transcript of the interview is featured below:
Q: In broad, general terms, how important is the improvement and enhancement of road infrastructure to the growth and sustainability of the Ontario economy?
CM: Both the County of Simcoe and Regional Municipality of York are expected to experience rapid growth over the next 10-20 years. We know that people in this community drive and our road infrastructure needs to be able to accommodate this reality. It is not just the average commuter who pays the price of congestion. The GTA alone loses $11 billion in productivity as a result of congestion every year. Now is the time to make smart infrastructure investments that will get people moving in our communities and support a strong economy. Our government is doing just that. Whether it be through our commitment to build the Bradford Bypass, or as part of our broader plan to spend more than $21 billion over the next decade to support highway infrastructure projects.
Q: Who initiated the process to begin development of the 400-404 Link? Is this something that begins at the municipal level and is proposed to the Province, or is it an idea that comes from the Ministry based on traffic estimates and future population growth for the region, and then is introduced to the pertinent municipalities?
CM: For decades, commuters in York Region have been demanding a connecting link between Highways 400 and 404. In 2012, the Dalton McGuinty government abandoned the highway without an alternative to accommodate future growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. Now, the need for the highway is even more urgent than it was 20 years ago. As much as we would like it to, congestion is not just going to disappear. In fact, it is projected to increase across the Greater Golden Horseshoe in the coming years. If we don’t act now, by 2051, average travel speeds are expected to be 16 per cent slower when compared to 2016. We need to do what is necessary to relieve existing congestion and plan for long-term travel demand. The Bradford Bypass will achieve this, anticipated to save commuters up to 35 minutes when they use the new freeway compared to existing routes along local roads. That’s more than 60 per cent savings in travel time that will allow Ontarians to spend less time behind the wheel and more time doing the things that are important to them.
Q: What are the reasons/rationales for developing this specific link between Highways 400 and 404? In what ways will it have practical and measurable benefits for BWG’s economy and growth as a community?
By 2051, the population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe is expected to grow to 14.8 million people, and we need our infrastructure to accommodate this growth. Congestion is an issue that all Ontarians deal with and based on the projected population growth, it is only expected to get worse in the coming years. No one deserves to sit in gridlock for hours on end. By building the Bradford Bypass, we are making great strides to improve the commuter experience, not just in York-Simcoe, but across the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. The Bradford Bypass will not only save commuters time, but it will also support economic growth and reduce harmful carbon emissions. It has been a long wait for this project and our government is finally getting it done.
Q: What is the process involved for this development? I imagine it is quite complicated, but if you can, run down the steps involved from initial planning to the point where cars are zooming between the 400 and 404. For example, dealing with the municipalities along the way, dealing with landowners, environmental concerns to be addressed, transportation studies, RFPs etc. etc.
The process for building the Bradford Bypass project comes down to four stages: Planning, Preliminary Design, Detail Design, and Construction – we are currently in the preliminary design stage. In this stage, our Project Team has made refinements and alternatives along the previously approved route, including the Bradford Bypass mainline, freeway to freeway interchanges, as well as arterial/crossing road locations. That’s why there are now ‘Future Home of the Bradford Bypass’ signs in the ground, which our government and residents are very excited about. These design refinements were shared as part of PIC #1 held in May 2021 and consider a wide range of considerations based on the following key factors: Transportation and Engineering, Socio‐Economic, Natural Environment and Cultural Environment. During the next phase of the study, the Project Team will continue to assess and evaluate preliminary design refinements and alternatives based on feedback from the PIC, fieldwork and additional technical work. The results of this will be presented to the public at a second PIC in the fall of 2022.We will then move to the next phase, in which the design will be refined and developed to a design implementation level of detail. All environmental commitments from previous studies will also be addressed during this phase. Our government’s focus has always been to get shovels in the ground for this project as soon as possible. Once we’re able to move to the construction phase, we will move at full speed to deliver this highway. It has been a long wait for residents of York Region and Simcoe County, and we want to see them driving on this new link as soon as possible.
Q: And how long do you envision this process taking?
CM: The Preliminary Design stage is anticipated to be completed in early 2023. Procurement ready design and construction stages will follow, subject to funding and approvals.
Q: Are there initial cost estimates for the project?
CM: The Ministry is currently in the early stages of a Preliminary Design and Class EA Study. Construction costs will be determined when engineering refinements and preliminary design are further advanced.
Q: Speaking more as the local MPP, what are your thoughts on how BWG is poised to be a good centre for industry and entrepreneurship now and for the foreseeable future?
CM: Ontario is home to a lot of talent. The Premier has said this himself several times over the course of the pandemic and even before. We know that skilled workers are the backbone of York-Simcoe and the entire province, which is why our government is always looking to create local job opportunities whenever possible. By making smart investments in highway infrastructure now, our government is laying the foundation for a more prosperous future. The Bradford Bypass will not only provide congestion relief to commuters, but it will also support our local economies and attract more opportunities right here at home.
Q: Do you have any final words on the 400-401 Link Project?
CM: It is important to recognize that there is support for the Bradford Bypass, not just locally, but across party lines, which speaks volumes. During the 2018 election, NDP and Liberal opponents in York-Simcoe proudly voiced their support for the Bradford Bypass. After the Dalton McGuinty government abandoned the project in 2012, under Kathleen Wynne, the Bradford Bypass was added to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, recognizing the need build. The reality is the need to build the Bradford Bypass is not just a local issue. The congestion that we are finding backing up our local roads comes from broader congestion on Highway 400 that will only get worse if we don’t act. The Bradford Bypass is anticipated to save commuters up to 35 minutes when they use the new freeway compared to existing routes along local roads. This is going to make a world of difference for drivers on roads in York-Simcoe, but on Ontario’s main highways as well.
When the Ontario government presented a new mini budget on Nov. 4, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said that the 400-404 Link was part of an overall $1.6 billion infrastructure expenditure which also includes the new Highway 413 for the western portion of the GTA.