Designs for Highway 17 expansion 40 years old
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Darren Waters, senior project engineer with the Ministry of Transportation, briefs members of Renfrew County council Wednesday on the progress of Highway 17 expansion and other critical transportation infrastructure projects in the region.
Even if the province was to suddenly approve funding to four lane Highway 17 from Renfrew to Petawawa and beyond, construction couldn’t begin until the 40-year old designs for the project are updated.
Although phase two of the twinning of Highway 17 from Campbell Drive in Arnprior to Scheel Drive in McNab/Braeside Township wraps up this year, the expansion of the highway to Bruce Street in Renfrew, a stretch of 22.5 kilometres, remains in doubt.
Phase three is on the province's long-term capital projects list but no capital funding has been committed. The provincial Liberals, through the Ministry of Infrastructure, has pledged $160 billion investment in roads, bridges, schools and hospitals over the next 10 years.
Speaking with Renfrew County council Wednesday, Ministry of Transportation (MTO) officials had no good news on the funding front, nor did they provide any prospects that Highway 417 will be a reality in the region in our lifetime.
The fourth phase of construction, anticipated to take place between Renfrew and Meath Hill just east of Pembroke, would still require property acquisition to take place especially as the highway’s route will take it east of Muskrat Lake. The only progress that has been made on this front is offers have been made to between 70 and 80 per cent of the property owners.
As for the expansion from Meath Hill to the Petawawa/Laurentian Hills boundary, while the property may have been acquired already the plans were drawn up in the 1970’s and haven’t been update, according to MTO senior project manager Darren Waters.
“We’ve gone out in the Seventies and we purchased a lot of the property prior to the expansion, but we would look at initiating a preliminary design in there just to confirm that the interchanges are in the correct location,” Waters told County councillors.
That development further disappointed Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet, who has been championing another option to speed up the expansion which calls for construction to leapfrog the Renfrew to Meath Hill section and commence between Pembroke and Chalk River. County council has already rejected a Town of Petawawa resolution that calls for the four-laning of Highway 17 to begin north of Deep River or between Chalk River and Petawawa with construction crews working eastward to meet in the middle near Cobden.
Sweet said they are missing an ideal opportunity to secure federal infrastructure funding for something that could be defined as a national project considering this highway connects eastern Canada with routes going west.
“It will be years, absolutely years to get it four-laned,” said Sweet after the meeting. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it takes another 40 years to get to the bottom of Meath Hill.”
With the presence of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in Chalk River and Garrison Petawawa, Sweet noted most of the traffic is being generated in the Upper Ottawa Valley. Some 8,000 military and civilian employees work at the garrison alone. Comparing the garrison and CNL to major employers like the big three car companies, the mayor added the province could have made a push to secure some of the new infrastructure money being promised by the federal Liberals.
“The federal and provincial governments would bend over backwards to satisfy Ford, Chrysler or General Motors,” said Sweet. “I am not sure if all our lobbying or advocacy we’ve made changes their mind one little bit. They have a pre-determined 20-year or 50-year plan for roads in Ontario. For whatever reason we are not on the radar.”
Waters informed council that the MTO continues to improve the highway with resurfacing operations between Laurentian Hills and Pembroke and the addition of centre line rumble strips east of Pembroke. In 2017, the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 41 will also undergo improvements. Deer warning and distance marker signs will be installed going from Deep River westward.