Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation finally announced a construction timeline for the oft-delayed four-lane Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph, but Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris says he’ll “believe it when he sees it.”
“Until we see bulldozers and dump trucks and high hoes on the highway, I think there are a lot of folks who are going to be skeptical, perhaps, as to if this thing is really happening,” he said from his office at Queen’s Park.
The project he noted was promised by then-premier Dalton McGuinty in 2007, only to be postponed in 2010.
Conveniently, the proposal popped back into the Liberal Party platform just in time for the 2014 general election, Harris added.
“This is a much needed expansion that we have needed for decades,” Harris, the Progressive Conservative’s transportation critic said. “Yet we have been forced to play this waiting game as governments kicked the can down the road.”
Now, an MTO spokesperson says construction of the highway, which will span from Highway 85 to the Hanlon Expressway with exits at Shirley Avenue, Bridge Street, Ebycrest Road, Shantz Station Road and Wellington Road 86, will begin in 2015.
“Work to widen the Guelph Street overpass is expected to begin in the spring,” Ministry of Transportation communications coordinator Liane Fisher told The Observer. “The next step would be to start on the Shirley Avenue extension and the Victoria Street widening and bridge replacement, beginning with significant utility relocations.”
The project is expected to take five construction seasons through 2020, but the total cost has not yet been revealed.
“I did ask the minister (of Transportation Steven Del Duca) yesterday in committee in fact, when will it be complete and how much will it cost?” Harris said. “I didn’t get those answers.”
The costs will likely exceed the $300 million estimate put forward in 2007, Harris added.
The provincial government is currently in the process of acquiring property needed for the highway.
“Approximately 143 properties need to be acquired for this project, 84 of which require expropriation,” Fisher explained. “Some of the lands required for the project are hydro and railway lands and cannot be expropriated. We have agreements with the owners of another 57 properties, and will continue to negotiate with the remaining property owners even though the ministry has expropriated the land. The Minister signed the certificate of approval for expropriation on September 8. All expropriation plans have been registered on title and a date of possession of Jan. 23, 2015 has been established.”
While he criticized the Liberal government for mismanaging the file, Harris agrees that the Highway 7 expansion is important for the Region of Waterloo.
“I can assure the folks in my riding, as I have since I was first elected in 2011, this is something that I have repeatedly pressed the government on, minister after minister after minister,” Harris said. “I am going to continue to press this issue as one of our major infrastructure projects in my riding. And so the residents of Kitchener-Conestoga and throughout Waterloo Region can rest assured that they’ve got a guy here at Queen’s Park that is going to continue to hold the government’s feet to the fire to ensure that Highway 7 gets built.”