By Jessica Lovell
It may seem to some like plans to reconstruct Highway 7 between Guelph and Kitchener have stopped in their tracks, but local MPP Liz Sandals says that is not the case.
The planning work that has been going on to move the project forward is not in the public eye, so people may think it’s not happening, but “that’s not true,” Sandals said Monday.
It was December of 1997 when the Ministry of Transportation first submitted an environmental assessment to the Ministry of the Environment for approval to construct a four-lane controlled access freeway between Kitchener and Guelph.
After a number of public consultations, as well as consultation with First Nations, the environmental assessment was approved in March 2007.Five years later, commuters on the busy stretch of roadway have yet to see construction begin.
But there is much more to the process than just securing environmental approval, said Sandals.
“After you’ve got that general approval, there’s still a lot to be done,” she said.
Since the environmental assessment was approved, engineering studies – that look at things like highway design, construction of interchanges, bridges and over- or underpasses, and environmental impacts – have been undertaken, said Sandals.
In addition, the process of land acquisition for the road, which will run just north of the current Highway 7, has also begun, she said.
“They are looking much more closely at exactly what parcels of land they need,” she said. “Until you acquire the land, you can’t begin the highway.”
Sandals’ extra reassurance that work is, in fact, moving along on the highway came following a recent promise from Premier Dalton McGuinty that construction on the project would begin within three years.
McGuinty’s promise, made during a visit to Kitchener last week, followed comments from PC transportation critic Frank Klees charging that the Highway 7 project is not a priority for the Liberal government.
“That’s sheer nonsense,” said Sandals, noting that if the government were never going to build the highway, it wouldn’t be going ahead with the land-acquisition process.
“There is actually money available in the budget to begin the land acquisition process,” she said, though she wouldn’t say how much.
Although the project is not in the MTO’s current construction forecast, she said people should expect to see shovels in the ground by late 2015 or early 2016.
“My understanding is that’s just how much time the process takes,” she said. “The good news is, yeah this is a very complicated process, but the very complicated process is continuing to move forward.”
Plans for the highway include extending the Hanlon Expressway north beyond Woodlawn Road to connect it to a new divided, four-lane Highway 7. The new highway will run for 18 kilometres from the Hanlon to Highway 86 in Kitchener.
Sandals admits that the cost of the project will have increased since the completion of the environmental assessment, but she wouldn’t say what the project was expected to cost.
“Just the fact that time has passed, the cost will be higher than was said in 2007,” she said.
The MTO has put in an application for some capital funding from the federal government, which if successful, could cover 25 per cent of the construction costs, she said.
“We have no idea how that will turn out,” she said, but noted the province is hopeful that the federal government will see the economic development benefits of the new highway.