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The next step in long-awaited Hwy. 7 project

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Churchill was, of course, speaking of a the situation during the Second World War, not the construction of a new Highway 7, but the sentiment might apply to the latter.

Under discussion for decades and on the government books for at least 15 years, the project took another step forward with last week’s announcement the province will be seeking bids to replace the Highway 7 Frederick Street underpass in Kitchener. The work is required to accommodate the new interchange between Highway 85 and new Highway 7.

“This moves us into the third and final phase,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris of the underpass project. “So the kickoff to this will be the Frederick Street underpass, widening everything out, very similar to what we saw with Victoria Street.”

While the province has already spent some $120 million on the project, there’s be no construction to date on the actual highway itself. Harris said he expects that will follow the construction of a new bridge over the Grand River, the timing of which remains up in the air.

“I think the biggest project when it comes to phase three, is going to be the new Grand River bridge construction. When people are really looking for kind of a landmark part of this new endeavor, I guess you could call, it will be that [bridge], because that’s going to show the real progress.”

Much of the money spent to date has included land acquisition for the new route just north of the existing Highway 7 stretch between Kitchener and Guelph. There have also been major upgrades to the Highway 85 intersections around Victoria and Wellington streets and Shirley Avenue on the Kitchener side.

The project is a priority, says Harris, because the existing Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph is among the busiest two-lane provincial highways in Ontario. The new route would be a four-lane, controlled access freeway stretching some 18 kilometres between the two cities.

“Our government is really taking the lead, moving this project to the forefront and getting it done. Clearly, we’ve seen results over the last three years. So I’m glad that we’re continuing to push through this because we’re talking about 20,000 to 30,000 people a day going back and forth between Guelph and KW,” said Harris.

That issue was stressed by Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney in making last week’s announcement.

“Our government knows the importance of making smart investments in highways, roads and bridges to strengthen and expand our highway network,” she said in a statement. “Waterloo Region is an important centre of technology and innovation, and important to the success of our province. By advancing work to replace the Frederick Street underpass, we are one step closer to our goals of improving commute times and enhancing safety, growing the economy and connecting neighbouring communities.” 

Tenders for the Frederick Street underpass are expected to be awarded early in 2022, with the work beginning next spring. There’s no timeline for the start of the highway itself, nor its completion. Harris says that’s what people are waiting for.

“It’s shovels in the ground that people want to see. And I think we’re well on our way to proving that we’re going to get this finished.”

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