Local politicians call for action to widen Highway 3 following fatal accidents
By Justin Prince
Note: This story was originally published in the Tecumseh Tribune and the LaSalle Post.
Local politicians are calling for action to widen parts of Highway 3 after a fatal car accident last month.
Both Essex MPP Taras Natyshak and Town of Essex Mayor Ron McDermott are wanting Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation to expand parts of the highway to four lanes following May 20’s deadly seven-car accident. They are looking to complete the final phase of a now 10-year expansion from County Road 8 outside of Essex to County Road 77 near Leamington. Brantford, Ont. resident Michael Dostal, 66, was killed in the incident while another four were sent to hospital. At the time, it was the second fatal accident in less than a month on the highway between the two towns.
Natyshak has been increasing the amount of public pressure on the MTO to widen the 25-kilometre stretch, which was originally scheduled for construction in 2014.
“We’ve all known for more than 30 years that this road needed to be widened. It has had a contentious and treacherous path,” said Natyshak. “I’m simply saying, ‘Finish what you started and finish this road.’”
In an open letter to Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca, the MPP called on him and the MTO to place the project on an accelerated timeline. He also requested an increase in safety measures and campaigns to promote safe driving between the two towns. Both the county and the Town of Essex have also been working to do the same and discussed increasing the amount of Ontario Provincial Police presence on the road at town council June 6.
The project is currently not scheduled to be done until 2017 or later, according to the MTO’s Southern Highways Program. That section of the road is known to have a large amount of transport trucks and commuters on a daily basis.
“The longer the project is delayed, the more carnage we’re going to see on that specific portion of the road,” said Natyshak on May 26. “My fear is that at this point, even given the recent fatalities and high levels of incidents and multi-vehicle accidents on that stretch, the government has no intention of fulfilling their obligation to our community anytime soon.”
The project to expand the highway between Windsor and Leamington from two lanes to four started in 2006 after decades of lobbying efforts by former Liberal MPP and Leamington Mayor Bruce Crozier, who died in 2011. When it started, the construction was to split into three phases, the first two of which have been completed up to County Road 8 outside of the Town of Essex.
Since then, there had been no indication when the highway would be expanded in the county.
“I don’t know the reason other than they keep saying they don’t have the money,” said McDermott, putting some of the blame on the party representation in the area. “They’ve got the funds. It’s all a matter of where we’re going to spend them … If Crozier was alive today, we’d have this done. I’m sure they would have found the money for it.”
The phases that have been finished so far cost about $20 million. It will cost the MTO $50 million to finish the final and biggest phase, according to Natyshak. The ministry had spent more than $16 million to repave part of the proposed expansion area in anticipation of widening the road last year.
“My problem with (the repaving) is that how long will that delay or prolong the eventual widening,” said Natyshak. “It seems like a waste of money to me to repave certain sections of the third phase when you know you have to widen it. Why lay down fresh asphalt when you know you’re going to have to rip it up?”
He explained the MTO had not been able to give him any clear answers as to why there have been this long of a delay. The county has also been working on arranging a meeting with Del Duca to discuss the issue, according to McDermott. The situation eventually led to Natyshak giving a statement to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario about Highway 3 on May 31.
“I know in Natyshak’s region that this is a vitally important project or initiative the community is looking at and I understand the urgency,” said Del Duca during assembly at Queen’s Park. “Any time there’s a fatality or an injury on a road or a highway in the province that my heart goes out to those involved and all the families involved … I know we have more work to do and I’m happy to have a conversation with that member and meet with municipal representatives from that community.”
Natyshak explained after returning to Essex June 3 he felt he backed Del Duca “into a corner a bit” with the situation. He made it clear though he does not want the MTO to take its time to get the process back underway.
“I feel he opened the door to negotiate … but the time table for this has to be immediate. Not in 2017. Not in 2018. It has to be now,” said Natyshak.”