Traffic flows through the Red River Road and Thunder Bay Expressway intersection on a slushy Wednesday afternoon.
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The Thunder Bay Expressway is about to undergo a major makeover.
The province announced a pair of planned projects through the Northern Highways Program today that the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle, said will increase safety and traffic flow around the city.
Gravelle said the first project, which went out for tender today, will see lights installed along the Trans Canada corridor from the Neebing River to John Street, a section that will also be repaved as part of the infrastructure rehabilitation plan.
Additional turning lanes at Oliver Road, the Harbour Expressway, John Street and Red River Road will also be included in the expected multi-million project.
"This is something that I think is going to make a huge difference in term of traffic safety. We certainly know there is a large volume of traffic that goes through the Thunder Bay Expressway on a daily basis. So this is good news indeed," said Gravelle, who until the tenders are received cannot place a cost on the entirety of the plan.
"It’s something I’ve been working hard on for some time, and I’m very pleased that these changes will be taking place. They’re certainly due and we’re excited to having it happening."
On average, up to 19,000 vehicles a day travel along the Thunder Expressway.
Gravelle said the illumination phase was initially scheduled for 2008, but it ran into a snag when the Ministry of the Environment stepped in with concerns.
"They are now dealt with. Certainly with any of these projects there’s a process one has to go through, which must be respected and has got to be put in place," Gravelle said.
A second project, should the money be allocated, would see a pair of cloverleaf overpasses built at the Hodder Avenue exchange, with an eye to the future four-laning of the particular stretch of Highway 11/17.
Work is expected to begin as early as June, with Gravelle promising to minimize any traffic disruption that goes with a project of this magnitude.
Detailed design plans for the Hodder Avenue project are expected to be finalized some time next year, though currently the province has yet to commit to any construction.
Gravelle called tendering the design a positive step to improving highway safety along a route that is travelled by anyone crossing the country from either direction.
"It’s an important part of the long-term plan to four-lane that section, and a particularly significant one because of the Terry Fox Lookout," Gravelle said. "(It’s also important) because of the work that needs to be done to protect the Current River. We want to make sure that any work that takes place when building the interchange or overpass … will take all that into consideration."
According to the minister property owners, whose land is needed to complete the Hodder Avenue exchange, have agreed to sell the necessary land to make it possible.
Gravelle, who said he’s optimistic the project will move ahead, added the two plans could be viewed as an early indication that highway money is starting to flow into Northwestern Ontario following a series of high-profile projects in the Northeast.
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