On Thursday the provincial government announced the Northern Ontario Transportation Plan.
The plan was announced over Zoom by Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation.
Mulroney was joined by Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and MPP for Kenora-Rainy River.
Northern Ontario encompasses a vast part of the province and it relies on a connected transportation network for travel and the transportation of goods but large distances between communities, harsh winters and a rocky landscape can make travel difficult.
“Connecting critical industries like mining, agriculture forestry, those are big loads and they take a toll on our highways,” Rickford said in the announcement.
The plan is a guide to build and maintain an efficient and connected transportation network. It outlines 67 actions including improving winter roads and supporting remote airports in order to keep people and goods moving, improving travel for people in remote and far north communities, and promoting economic development in northern Ontario.
The province is committing $625 million to expand and repair northern highways and bridges. This is estimated to create 4,370 direct and indirect construction jobs for the people of northern Ontario.
This plan will continue to be updated as it takes its course to ensure that it is meeting the needs of the people of norther Ontario.
The actions are organized under six goals.
1. Getting people moving and connecting communities
2. Enabling economic opportunities
3. Keeping people safe and providing reliable transportation options
4. Preparing for the future
5. Maintaining a sustainable transportation system
6. Reliable travel options for remote and Far North communities
A few highlights of the plan include advancing highway widening projects including sections of Highway 69, Highway 11/17 and Highway 17, adding new Ontario Northland Transportation Commission bus routes between White River and Thunder Bay and between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, investing in remote airports, investing in new and enhanced rest areas and expanded truck parking, supporting economic recovery from COVID-19, offering the G1 knowledge test in three Indigenous languages and moving forward on the plan for passenger rail services for northeastern Ontario.
In April, the Town of Fort Frances and the Township of Emo voiced their concerns about the lack of cellphone coverage along Highway 502 which runs from Dryden down to Highway 11.
The highway stretches 120 kilometers and is used by many American tourists in the summer and Ontarians throughout the year. There are many concerns about the dangers of the road in the winter and with poor cellphone connection, those in accidents cannot call for help, which can lead to dangerous or even fatal situations.
The plan does not expressly address Highway 502 specifically, but it states that Ontario has allocated $680 million to support access to broadband and cellular services across Ontario. This funding is in addition to the $315 million that was announced in June.