On April 10th the Province announced that it had issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to widen an 18 km stretch of Highway 401 through Peel and Halton Regions. The proposed widening will run from the Credit River in Mississauga to Regional Road 25 in Milton, and will feature HOV lanes along the entire length. The widths will be:

  • Twelve lanes from the Credit River to Winston Churchill Boulevard
  • Ten lanes from Winston Churchill Boulevard to Highway 407 ETR / Highway 401 interchange
  • Twelve lanes from Highway 407 ETR / Highway 401 interchange to James Snow Parkway
  • Ten lanes from the James Snow Parkway to Regional Road 25

Scope of the Highway 401 Widening, from the Credit River to Highway 25, image courtesy of MTO

As is common with RFQs, the estimated cost of the project was not disclosed. However, we can extrapolate the projected cost based on similar widening projects along the 401 corridor. In April 2016, the Province announced the expansion of Highway 401 from Hurontario St to the Credit River, a 4 km expansion with a cost of $81 million. Using these numbers, we can expect the cost of this 18 km widening to be in the neighbourhood of $365 million.

The closing date for the RFQ is June 28, 2017, at which point a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued. Once the Province and the successful proponent have agreed to a contract, the exact price of the extension will be announced.

The widening of Highway 401 at Hurontario St, image courtesy of insauga

Last month, Urban Toronto featured an article that detailed the relationship between highway expansion and urban sprawl, and the feedback loop that the two create. The exponential growth of the Town of Milton over the last two decades has increased volumes on the 401. While this widening is likely to create temporary relief for commuters, the cycle of sprawl has shown us time and time again that new highway infrastructure only increases the degree of sprawl.

Nearly the entire 401 corridor from Hurontario St to Highway 8 in Kitchener is being widened through a series of separate projects, with the minimum width of the highway along the corridor being 10 lanes (including HOV lanes). While this corridor is vital to inter-regional (and in many cases international) goods movement, it is primarily commuter traffic that is driving the need for the expansions.

GO Bus service between Cambridge and Milton which could be replaced by Milton Line extension, image courtesy of GO

While the Province is making unprecedented moves in funding transit expansion across the GTHA ($15 billion over 10 years), not all projects on the 'wish list' of various municipalities have received funding. For example, many Cambridge residents, and even the Mayor, have been asking for an extension of the Milton line, which is projected to cost $110 million. By comparison, the recently-announced expansion of Highway 401 to 10 lanes from Hespeler Rd to Townline Rd in Cambridge already has $96 million in Federal funding attached, with the remainder to be covered by the Province. The widening of the 401 from Hespeler Rd to Highway 8 has a cost of $112.8 million. One has to wonder which of those two projects, the widening from Hespeler Rd to Townline Rd or the GO expansion, would come out on top if a cost-benefit analysis were performed.

The one 'big ticket' item that is still awaiting funding is the expansion of the Milton Line to support Regional Express Rail (RER). The Milton Line is noticeably absent from the RER plan, as a significant number of corridor upgrades would be required in order to separate the GO service from CP's mainline freight service. CP, who owns the corridor, has priority over train scheduling, which severely limits the number of trains GO can run, and the times at which they can run them. It is estimated that widening the Milton Line corridor to support RER would cost approximately $3.5 billion.

GO, CN, and CP rail configuration with the Missing Link in place, image courtesy IBI Group study

An alternative to this would be the construction of the Missing Link, which was detailed in a previous Urban Toronto article. The total projected cost of that project is $5.3 billion, which is roughly equivalent to the cost of widening both the Milton and Kitchener lines to support RER service. This piece of infrastructure would be transformational for rail service, both passenger and freight, in the western GTHA. It's hard to say that the widening of the 401 would do the same.

We will keep you up-to-date on the both the Highway 401 widening and the Missing Link as new details emerge. In the meantime, you can join the discussion about the Highway 401 widening in our associated forum thread, or in the comments section below.