Having already spent some $120 million on the project, the province is unlikely to halt work on the new Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph, say local officials.
The Ford government is reviewing its finances, however, meaning there’s currently no timeline for completing the highway.
Discussed for decades, the new route finally saw actual construction work begin in 2015. Earlier this year, however, the province announced it would be taking another look at the project.
“We are currently reviewing all projects and spending committed to by the last government, and taking the necessary steps to make sure we are best positioned to provide quality, safe and efficient transportation options to all Ontarians. One of the projects currently under review is the new Highway 7 from Kitchener to Guelph,” said Ministry of Transportation (MTO) spokesperson KersondraHickey in an email.
AnMTO work-plan called the Southern Highways Program 2017-2021 lists only “beyond2021” as the timeline for completing the new four-lane highway. When construction got underway in 2015, the project was expected to take five years to complete at a total cost of about $300 million.
To date, the ministry has spent approximately $70 million on property acquisition, and another $50 million on construction. With such sunk costs, the province is likely to continue at some point, says Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz.
“There’s so much invested in it – I can’t imagine that it won’t go ahead,” she said. “My understanding is that phase 1 will be completed and then they’ll look at how they’ll go ahead with phase 2.
Ken Seiling, the recently retired regional chair, said last week he hoped the project would get back on track in short order, suggesting the review has to do with budgeting as the new government gets a handle on the finances it inherited from the previous regime.
Local officials’ talks with Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris have been encouraging, said Shantz, echoing the idea that the province is looking at the books rather than backing out at this point.
“I think it’s about looking at the funding.”
The MTO has already done a fair bit of work, largely completing the first phase.
Work on the new highway began with the widening of the Guelph Street overpass onHighway 85 (completed in 2015). Four additional construction projects followed:the widening and extension of Shirley Avenue (completed in 2017); municipal utility relocations at VictoriaStreet (completed in 2017); clearing and fencing of select areas of the new highway corridor between Kitchener and Guelph (completed in 2018); and the ongoing replacement of the Victoria Street overpass on Highway 85, which reopened in October, but is not yet fully completed.
“While the majority of work on the replacement of the Victoria Street Bridge on Highway85 is expected to be completed in December 2018, there is some weather-dependant work that needs to be completed in spring 2019,” said Hickey.
The construction contract for the replacement of the Victoria Street Bridge also includes the rehabilitation of the Metrolinx Rail, Wellington Street and Guelph Street bridges on Highway 85, also slated to be completed next spring.
“Alongside this work, the ministry is also undertaking the detailed design of the two new Highway 7 bridges that will cross the Grand River as well as other engineering, property acquisition and environmental work required to complete the entire new Highway 7 project,” Hickey explained.
At launch, plans for the controlled-access highway, which will run from Highway 85 in Kitchener to the Hanlon Expressway in Guelph, will have exits at Shirley Avenue, Bridge Street, Ebycrest Road, Shantz StationRoad and Wellington Road 86.