Highway 17’s Chronic Challenges: Time for Action in Northern Ontario

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Highway 17 and Highway 11 Are a National Disgrace

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – The discussion about twinning Highway 17 across Northern Ontario has spanned nearly sixty years, filled with promises but slow in achieving substantial progress. This winter, the increased frequency of highway closures has brought this issue into sharper focus.

Every Closure on Highway 17 Means Canada is a Broken Country

The Trans-Canada Highway’s vulnerability in Northern Ontario disrupts our national connectivity, rendering Canada a “broken country” by road during closures. This weakness is not just a local concern; it’s a national embarrassment that demands immediate attention from both federal and provincial governments.

The economic implications of these closures are profound. Idling trucks and halted traffic mean that when the highway shuts down, so does a significant portion of our national economy. This has direct repercussions for Thunder Bay, as seen in the recent produce shortages in local grocery stores due to highway blockages.

Ontario’s commitment to begin twinning Highway 17 this spring is a positive initiative but falls short of the broader vision required for our national infrastructure. It’s time to rethink the management of the Trans-Canada Highway, traditionally left to provincial jurisdiction, and set a new national transportation goal in the post-COVID era: a twinned highway that spans the entire country.

Trucking Standards: A Patchwork of Policies

There’s also a pressing need to standardize trucking regulations across Canada. The current provincial approach has led to gaps in driver training, contributing to accidents and fatalities in our region.

A transport truck driver should be capable and qualified for the busy highways of Toronto, the snowy and often remote Northern Ontario highways, and the deep snow of British Columbia highways.

A particular point of contention is Ontario’s approach to snow clearing on the highway, which seems to prioritize Southern Ontario’s standards over those needed in the North. Enhanced winter maintenance and snow clearing are essential for the safety and reliability of Northern highways.

The urgency to improve Canada’s national highway network is clear. This may include revisiting the privatization of snow clearing services to ensure more effective maintenance.

The persistent neglect of this issue must end. It’s time for decisive action and concrete solutions to ensure that Highway 17, and indeed all of Canada’s national highways, are safe, reliable, and efficient.

James Murray

National Disgrace – January 10, 2023

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