Reporting in late November revealed Ontario and the City of Ottawa were in talks to ‘upload’ responsibility for Highways 174 and 17 to the province, relieving the city of the financial and administrative burdens, had Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth asking if the province would consider uploading County Road 17 beyond Canaan Road as well.
In late November, the province and the City of Toronto inked an historic new deal that would inject Toronto with much needed cash and an investment in its transit system, and would see the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, two of the province’s busiest highways, transferred over to the jurisdiction of Ontario’s Ministry of Transport. The deal offered Toronto billions of dollars in capital relief and “ensured the long-term protection, preservation, and enhancement” of the two highways, seen by the provice as significant economic thoroughfares.
Not long after, reports surfaced that Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and the City of Ottawa were in talks with the province over a similar deal to hand over Highways 174 and 17, offering that city similar financial relief and support for the financial woes its transit system currently faces.
Zanth, however, was initially frustrated when he saw the deal was on the table, as offloading the more than 70 kilometres of County Road 17 that cuts through the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) has long been a focus for the two-term city councillor and mayor.
The upkeep of those 70 kilometres takes up some 20 per cent, $2.8 million, of the UCPR’s annual roadworks budget, but only accounts for around 10 per cent of the more than 600 kilometres of roads across its territory.
Since the road was downloaded to the UCPR by the Progressive Conservative government in 1998, major investments in the road have been made including nearly three kilometres of widening through Clarence-Rockland, installation of eight of the twelve traffic lights along the road, 51 kilometres of resurfacing and the rehabilitation of Jessup’s Fall Bridge.
Over the next 10 year the UCPR expects an additional $13 million to be invested in the road, on top of another $19 million for structures investments.
For Zanth, the upload would alleviate those financial stressors, but ultimately would not result in the highway being ‘twinned’ or expanded to accommodate increased traffic heading in and out of Ottawa as the municipality continues to grow. The cost of doubling the size of County Road 17 from Landry Road to Ottawa is estimated at nearly $140 million, a cost beyond the reach of the either tier of municipality.
After seeing the province was indeed open to these deals, Zanth said he emailed Transport Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria and texted Premier Doug Ford twice without a response.
“I spoke to [former Transport Minister] Mulroney last year about this and she told me that that would never happen,” said Zanth. “Then all of a sudden, I see that Mayor Sutcliffe is having conversations with Doug Ford.”
“I’m upset that the Ford government didn’t even reach out,” said Zanth. “No one reached to the counties, myself or any other mayor that has the 17 go through their municipality.”
Ottawa, Clarence-Rockland and the rest of the UCPR have been looking to upload the 174 and 17 ever since it was first downloaded to the municipalities by the Progressive Conservative government of the 1990s.
“If they had done their homework, they would have seen that the 174 and the 17 were downloaded from the province together. They’re the same road, they just changed the name at Canaan Road.”
Province ignoring needs of municipalities
The Ontario government ignoring the needs of municipalities, particularly the Francophone communities east of Ottawa, is not surprising to Zanth who sees the investments the province makes in the anglophone communities all around.
“This is about more than a highway. This is about respect for majority Francophone areas that never really seem to get mentioned,” said Zanth, citing projects in Carleton, Barrhaven and Kanata, but a lack of investment even in Orleans.”
The continued financial pressures on growing municipalities, like Clarence-Rockland, are not being met with equal investment from the province or the federal government who continue to cut taxes while expecting municipalities to build more housing and offer more services.
“You cannot keep forcing municipalities to raise their taxes while at the province you lower them,” said Zanth, who’s municipality is expected to raise taxes by 5.6 per cent in 2024. “Where is the provincial government to help us out? They will bankrupt us very soon if they don’t carry their share.”
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transport said they will « continue to work with [their] municipal partners to help ensure the sustainability of municipal infrastructure across Ontario. »