Another driver of development is the proposed expansion of, and improvements to, the province’s transportation infrastructure. In 2001, the Province announced a series of proposals to expand the Toronto-related region’s highway system (see Maps 5 and 9), including:
- the Highway 404 extension;
- the Highway 404 extension link (the Bradford Bypass);
- the Smart Growth Panel Economic Corridor;
- the Highway 400 widening; and
- the Highway 427 extension.
The highway expansion plans — some of which will be built in the near term while others are purely conceptual — play an important role in justifying development proposals. A multi-billion dollar highway extension that would take decades to construct, if it is built at all, may be described in a development application as if it is a concrete reality, contributing to the perception that growth along its path is inevitable.
Highway 404 currently terminates in the Town of Newmarket. The proposed northerly extension adds 45 km extending the highway east along the south edge of Lake Simcoe to terminate at the intersection of Durham Road 23 and Highway 12.95 The Ministry of Transportation’s EA was approved in August 2002. The 404 extension is currently awaiting approval from Transportation Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to confirm the configuration of railway overpasses and watercourse crossings. Subject to these approvals, the Ministry of Transportation expects to begin construction in spring 2006.
The proposed 16-km Bradford Bypass links York Region and Simcoe County. The road will travel west from the proposed northerly extension of Highway 404 in the Town of East Gwillimbury through Bradford to Highway 400. The Bypass was approved through the same EA process as the 404 extension (though without a construction timeframe). Both of the proposed large-scale developments in Simcoe are close to the proposed extensions of the approved sections of this highway.
The Central Ontario Smart Growth Panel recommended a region-wide transportation network in south-central Ontario,96 including “economic corridors” that provide inter-regional connections to 2035 and beyond. The most significant of these corridors would cross central Simcoe County to the north of the Oak Ridges Moraine, on the same alignment as the Bradford Bypass. Proximity to this future corridor is highlighted as a key eature of both the OPDI and the Bradford Bond Head Planning Area proposals.
Highway 400 is the key provincial highway link between southern and northern Ontario. It connects the urbanized areas in the south to tourist and recreational activities throughout Simcoe County and Muskoka and is a key artery for the movement of goods.97 The Simcoe Area Transportation Network Needs Assessment indicates that there is an “immediate need to widen Highway 400 to 8 lanes.”98 A wider 400 is a key feature of the Bradford Bond Head Planning Area, which would urbanize lands on both sides of the highway.
Highway 427 originates near the Toronto lakeshore and ends at Highway 7 in York Region, parallel to Highway 400. The Highway 427 Extension Transportation Needs Assessment Study proposes extending the 427 to connect to the Bradford Bypass at Highway 400.99 The Simcoe Area Transportation Network Needs Assessment, however, calls for Highway 427 to be extended further north to connect with Highway 11 north of Barrie.100 A major issue facing the 427 extension is that it would cross the Oak Ridges Moraine. At this time, the terms of reference for an individual environmental assessment for the highway have yet to be established. Development proposals in New Tecumseth in particular point to the potential extension of Highway 427 as a catalyst for growth.
Both the Highway 427 Extension Transportation Needs Assessment Study and the Simcoe Area Transportation Network Needs Assessment also recommend expanding GO train and bus service. The reports indicate that commuter rail service will relieve some congestion, but will not eliminate the need for substantial 400-series highway improvements.101 Funding commitments and further study of economic feasibility are outstanding.
The OPDI proposal relies on the 427 extension and the westward extension of the Bradford Bypass. The Bradford Bond Head Planning Area relies most on the widening of the 400. Although it would benefit from the construction of the Bradford Bypass and 404 extension, its proponents maintain that it is possible without other highway extensions.
The construction of the highway extensions is by no means certain. The new provincial Liberal government has yet to take a position on when or whether these plans will proceed. Should the extensions be built, Simcoe County will be served by more 400-series highways than any other jurisdiction outside the GTA in the Toronto-related region. South Simcoe, with a population of 207,635 in 2001, would be serviced by the 427, the 400, the Bradford Bypass, and York Region’s 404 extension. (By comparison, the Kitchener CMA, which includes Waterloo and Cambridge and supports a population of 414,284, is served by one 400-series highway: the 401.)