Construction of an 18km, four-lane highway connecting Kitchener and Guelph is set to begin later this year, say Ministry of Transportation officials.
The proposed route from Kitchener to Guelph is projected to cost $300 million and take up to five construction seasons to complete, with a projected opening in 2020.
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government originally approved the project in 2007.
Ministry of Transportation west region spokesperson Liane Fisher told the Advertiser the new route is required to address growing congestion along the current highway.
“The existing Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph is among the busiest two-lane provincial highways in the province,” Fisher stated in an email. “The new Highway 7 is required to improve the efficiency of the highway network as well as relieve existing and forecasted congestion in the corridor.”
The new alignment will be a divided, controlled-access freeway running parallel to the existing highway on the north side.
It will connect to the Kitchener-Waterloo expressway (Highway 85) in Kitchener and the Hanlon expressway (Highway 6) in Guelph, passing though the southwestern portion of Guelph-Eramosa Township between the existing Highway 7 and Wellington Road 30.
“The new route was selected through a preliminary design and environmental assessment which included numerous opportunities for public input,” Fisher wrote. “The new 18km route was designed to protect it from development.”
The first stages of the project slated for this year will be isolated to the Kitchener area.
“Work to widen the Guelph Street overpass is expected to begin in spring 2015,” said Fisher. “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 MTO received construction permission from 57 property owners along the route this fall, with consent still needed from 30 more.
Fisher says all necessary lands should be expropriated by Jan. 23. This accumulation of land has so far cost the ministry approximately $70 million.
“Localized traffic disruptions can be expected in the Kitchener area … We’ll work with the city and region to minimize their impact,” said Fisher. “The ministry is committed to completing the project. That’s why we are working to begin construction as soon as possible.”
Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White told the Advertiser township residents should experience minimal disruption during the highway’s construction and improvements to the main artery will be beneficial to all regions concerned.
“It’s not a high-density population area. That strip is pretty much agricultural,” White said of the portion of Guelph-Eramosa through which the new highway will pass.
“It’s more of an interest to Guelph and Kitchener. It’s really just passing through us, so the benefits to us are perhaps improved traffic through there and some improved safety … any time they improve a highway it’s a positive thing.”
The current Highway 7 route will remain in use after the new expressway has been completed, but Fisher noted a final decision on whose jurisdiction the current highway would fall under has not yet been made.
“We anticipate that after construction of the new highway, the existing Highway 7 will be transferred to the appropriate municipal authorities,” she said.
“As an upper tier municipal road, the existing Highway 7 would maintain its function of providing access to adjacent properties and east-west regional travel.”
White said he was not aware of any formal requests put forward to the township or the county just yet. He emphasized any additional roadways the township and county have to absorb will be a financial encumbrance.
“When the MTO makes a formal request for us to accept that highway, we will have to take a look at what the volumes are and what the requirements are to bring it up to scratch,” White said.
“Picking up any highway is an infrastructure burden to us. We have enough of an infrastructure deficit today – the last thing we need is more roadway. There’s no benefit to us absorbing another road, certainly not at the local level.”