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A ten-lane 401?

How many lanes is too many? What about alternatives?

An announcement in the local paper this week says that highway 401 is going to be expanded from 6 to 8 lanes between Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, about 5 km. Within 7 more years it'll be further expanded to 10 lanes over the same stretch.

The Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge areas have no viable form of alternative transportation yet in place. Providing our three cities with commuter train service would likely cost less than this single four-lane expansion of a small stretch of the freeway, and it would have a far more long lasting and useful effect.

As of right now, GO train service goes from downtown Toronto to Milton on the CPR line. The trains then continue up the hill with no passengers a further ten miles to park in Campbellville. 18 miles further west down those same tracks is the city of Cambridge.

Similarly, GO train service goes from downtown Toronto to Georgetown on the so-called "North Main Line" via Weston, Malton, and Brampton. These trains park at Georgetown. 19 miles further west is the city of Guelph, and 13 miles further west still is the city of Kitchener-Waterloo.

The condition of the tracks to all these cities is very good. Goderich-Exeter Railway, which operates from Georgetown to London via Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph recently installed brand new continuous welded rail on most of its line. It currently hosts an insignificant number of freight trains (4 west of Guelph and a mere 2 - one each way - east of Guelph) and handles 6 Via trains per day at mostly inconvenient times with no stops east of Brampton until downtown Toronto.

The largest expense in extending GO service to Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge would be the construction of stations.

The GO station at York University cost $850,000 to install. The parking lot at Langstaff station cost $1.4 million to double in size to 1,021 parking spaces. A safe bet would therefore be around $3.65 million per station. It would therefore likely cost about $10.95 million to install stations at the three cities, plus the cost of land expropriation where necessary.

The equipment already exists and is parked in locations where it could be used for these lines and additional trains would not even need to be purchased (until GO sees the demand is there). The tracks are also already in place and would not cost anything to put in, though the CPR line to Cambridge may eventually need to be double-tracked to provide better service.

The only expense aside from building the stations is direct operating expenses in operating the trains themselves, including any possible payments to the host railways to use their tracks. Some of these would be offset by removing the inept, slow, poorly scheduled, and mostly useless, but nevertheless present GO bus service to the area.

Now, back to the original point. How much will it cost to put 4 additional lanes over 5 km of the 401?

The initial announcement failed to mention the budget for it. But judging by this Ministry of Transport document, it should cost about $23 million. This document shows a 4.5 km stretch immediately to the west of where this work will take place being expanded from 4 to 6 lanes starting in 2000 for around $11.2 million. We're looking at putting in twice as many lanes over a slightly longer distance in two stages in the same geographic area, so the comparison is a safe one.

For $23 million, we will have four additional lanes over 5 km of Canada's busiest highway. This will not serve in the least to alleviate any of the traffic, and as anyone who drives on any highway knows, highway traffic tends to expand to fill all available lanes.

By putting in GO service, preferably all-day, to these three cities, a lot of the Toronto-bound traffic can be taken off the roads. The remaining traffic should be able to manage with the existing lane structure, and the four lane addition to the 401 over that short stretch would be unnecessary.

Unfortunately, political expediency and short-sightedness will still opt for the increased lane solution, at a mere twice the cost of adding GO service, only contributing further to our endless smog days in Southern Ontario.

At what point does the 401 have too many lanes?

By expanding the 401 from 6 to 8 and then to 10 lanes, do we really increase capacity on the highway enough to warrant the investment? Or in 10 years, will drivers, stuck in 10 lanes of lung-shattering traffic, ponder idly if 12 lanes or 14 lanes might possibly be better? At what point do we stop and consider the alternatives to our smog-filled air and car-filled roads?

One GO train can seat one thousand five hundred passengers, plus standing room, with one single 3,000 horsepower engine, the equivalent power of around 20 average cars (with their lone occupants).

Posted at 12:45 on June 09, 2006

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

Oops, the budget passed | essays guelph highways transit | Analysis of the June 10th Liberal leadership debate


Carrie writes at Fri Jun 9 13:17:00 2006...

I see your point. But after spending a horrendous weekday on the 401 between London and Toronto, I'm all for more lanes. There is too much traffic unfortunately and most of it is trucks and industry vans. Because that's the automotive delivery corridor (stretching to Windsor) it's only going to get worse when the new Toyota plant opens. I assume that's why they are expanding lanes in that section.

Anyway, anything to stop the trucks from weaving in and out of lanes and cutting people off. But as you said, 10 lanes now...how many more in the future? It's a problem definitely. But there does seem to be a need for more lanes.


Joe writes at Fri Jun 9 20:13:58 2006...

Pave paradise. Being in a car, cut off from human contact with the windows closed and the air blowing and the stereo playing is where I was when the world ended. I was trying to get to the exit, but I didn't. There were too many lanes, all full of cars. I wish I hadn't been alone...


Sheila writes at Fri Jun 9 21:29:12 2006...

There are other aspects to consider in this argument, all in favour of your train solution. Consider Kyoto targets, (even if our current federal government won’t) and any proposal to take cars off the road rather than adding more comes up a winner. It is socially irresponsible for us to make it easier for cars, the vast majority with only one person aboard, to take to the highways and to further jam our cities. Fast, clean, safe rapid transit for the growing bedroom communities outside of Toronto makes sense.


Silvio writes at Mon Sep 18 13:48:39 2006...

The problem is this: we all agree we need more and better public transportation, but there are other interests in our government.

Let's face it: Ontario is the #1 car maker in North America (So long Michigan). With all these interests surrounding the car industry, we can only expect our province to build more and more roads/freeways. After all, why would they care if we get stuck on the freeways? All that matters is that we buy cars and possibly wear them out ASAP so we have to buy another one.

Sadly, good things won't happen anytime soon. We'll have to get used to the traffic on the 401 &co. :(

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