Next steps for Highway 17 expansion
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday, June 9, 2016
The fight to expand Highway 17 continues after a lobbyist was hired to facilitate communication between the federal, provincial and local governments. “We’ve been moving forward to meet with the political people at the same time,” said County of Renfrew Warden Peter Emon. “What we’ve asked for ... is a predictable program to run through the County of Renfrew and across the rest of Ontario to head up Highway 17, so it becomes a four-lane highway.”
Expanding the highway to four lanes has been a priority for the county for some time. It has been officially identified in the strategic plan, and has been deemed necessary for economic growth.
To help gain traction with the federal government, the county has tied the idea of expanding the highway to a nation-building exercise. As part of the Trans-Canada system, it should be better maintained, particularly when compared to the pristine state of the highway down east. “We’ve taken that approach and said it was the perfect time to work on Highway 17 across Ontario,” said Emon. “We talk about the need the need for the highway to be four lane simply because the sheer volume of traffic that is not predictable,” Emon added.
Thousands of employees at Garrison Petawawa and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the largest employers in the Ottawa Valley, travel the highway daily to and from work. Farm vehicles, convoys of military vehicles, trucks carrying nuclear waste and school buses also use the highway in conjunction with large transport trucks and regular car drivers.
One mistake can, and has, cost people lives, Emon pointed out.
Response from the federal government has been relatively positive, he noted, with officials indicating they wish to be a partner with the county for this project. There is still much further to go, as all levels of government must be in agreement. “We will be getting out to the MPs and the MPPs along the Highway 17 corridor, and start talking to them about a non-partisan approach to getting this developed in a timely manner,” said Emon.
There has also been no official commitment by the government, either provincially or federally. As the project is shovel ready, Emon and his group will continue to push the issue and garner more advocacy.
The SAFE On 17 campaign has also brought attention to the issues the highway presents to ratepayers. It is an initiative that promotes Highway 17 expansion, using the power of social media to gather information, host a survey, and collect data and stories to promote this goal.
As of May 16, more than 2,500 people have responded to the survey, overwhelmingly in support of expanding the highway. “People are very, very adamant that this gets done in the five to 10 year timeline,” said ComBEtek Owner and Webmaster Shawn Behnke. “Most people realize that money doesn’t grow on trees and there has to be a realistic approach to this.”
Emon and his team plan to press the issue until it is resolved and Highway 17 finds itself expanded to four-lanes across the county.