THUNDER BAY -- With the possibility of a spring election looming, the provincial NDP leader has a plan to fix area highways she labelled as being “dangerous” this past winter.
Andrea Horwath visited the city on Saturday to announce proposed initiatives to improve safety on northern roads, including more snow removal equipment and a commitment to four-laning the Trans-Canada highway.
Among those pledges is a proposal to spend $36 million on 200 new pieces of snow clearing equipment, which the NDP says will increase the allotment of snowplows and spreaders on northern highways by nearly 20 per cent.
“A week didn’t go by without news reports of near-misses or bad accidents on your highways,” Horwath said at a media conference at the Valhalla Inn.
“There is no way we should have a repeat of what happened this past winter season. It was dangerous. We got the calls almost immediately that people were concerned the standards had been reduced and they hadn’t been seeing the same level of snow clearing.”
Horwath, who will hold significant power next week when the Liberal minority government tables their spring budget, added the new equipment would be available for next winter if she and the NDP is in a position to make that call.
Winter highway conditions can’t be allowed to return to what they were this past year, she said.
“What we don’t want to see are more accidents or difficulties,” Horwath said. “We want to try to find the ways to get the infrastructure improved so people are safe so those vital connections to communities are improved.”
Speaking at this past week’s Northern Ontario Municipal Association meetings in Fort Frances, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Glen Murray had a different plan to correct a winter maintenance system he admitted he was unhappy with.
Murray would rather provide municipalities with the option to take on the task of snow removal themselves while receiving funding with employees either working for a shared services model through NOMA or directly for the municipality.
“We would fund municipalities to actually expand and provide highway coverage,” he said. “We would pay for the trucks, we would take the money and pay for the staff.”
Horwath also announced an intent to widen the Trans-Canada highway at a rate of at least 30 kilometres per year and adding new passing lanes in areas where four-laning is not feasible.
As to which specific portions of highway would be given initial priority, Horwath was non-committal.
“That comes from a consultation with northerners. I a person who doesn’t believe that I can come up with the best solution from some office down south,” she said. “It’s about making sure northerners are part of that discussion and that we listen to what they have to say to be able to put those priorities in place.”