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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

MTO provides County Council with Highway 3 update

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Members of Essex County Council received an update regarding the Phase 3 portion of the Highway 3 widening project at its November 1 meeting.

Some County Councillors voiced concerns about the potential closure of four intersections to Highway 3 and how that could impact the farming community.

Kyle Saulnier, Area Manager for the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), explained the details of the Phase 3 Contract 2 for the project, which goes from east of the Town of Essex to west of the Municipality of Leamington. This included the project overview, procurement status, Environmental Assessment consultation and project websites, traffic impacts that can result from construction, and the schedule.

The MTO is leading the project with Infrastructure Ontario, he noted.

The first contract for the project is wrapping up, Saulnier said. This is from Ellis Side Road to east of County Road 23, which was awarded to Coco Paving in October 2020. Construction started in March of 2021 and has finished, with some small minor deficiencies being wrapped up.

Contract two, from east of Essex County Road 23 to County Road 34 is being delivered through Infrastructure Ontario’s Design Build Finance P3 Model. The contract was awarded on June 1, when Ontario Premier Doug Ford came to the area to make the announcement.

The detailed design and construction were awarded to the consortium of Green Infrastructure Partners (GIP) Highway 3 Inc, with the developer being GIP Paving, the design team of Dylan Consulting and WSP, and the construction team being GIP Paving Inc., formally Coco Paving. Altus Inc. continues to function as a technical advisory service.

Saulnier explained the project consists of the widening of Highway 3 for 15.7km, from two to four lanes with a 15m depressed median on the existing alignment. It also includes the improvement and widening of five intersections, including two existing signalized intersections and three new signalized intersections, and a variety of drainage features.

A road realignment will take place at Essex Road 27 and South Talbot Road. South Talbot Road will be pushed slightly North and Essex Road 27 will be extended.

Additional signalized intersections will all be at existing Essex Road 29 and Division, at Essex Road 18 and Highway 3, at Graham Side Road and Highway 3, and one at the existing Essex Road 34 and Highway 3.

As part of the project, there will be two Design and Construction Reports, which are anticipated to be prepared to document the scope of work, potential impacts, and mitigation measures. They will be completed and sent out for public review and comment.

There are four proposed permanent road closures of intersections with Highway 3 as a result of this construction, Saulnier said. The main reasons for this are to enhance safety by limiting the amount of access to the Highway 3 corridor.

The potential road closures of the intersections with Highway 3 include: Cameron Side Road and Concession Road 9, which will be made into a cul-de-sac on the southside. Marsh Road and Concession Road 8 will be realigned to connect with McCain Side Road, Inman Side Road/South Talbot Road, and Upcott Side Road.

An Ontario Land Tribunal hearing was held on November 2 to discuss the road closures. Members of the public were able to comment and forward any concerns they may have had.

An Ontario Land Tribunal spokesperson relayed that the decision for this Merit Hearing hasn’t been issued yet. While many Tribunal decisions are issued within 90 days of the hearing, some matters may take longer, depending on the complexity of the issues.

Access to Highway 3 will be made through signalized intersections, with the hope this will reduce the number of accidents and collisions, Saulnier said.

Detailed Design commenced in April. The 50 percent milestone was reached in the summer. By late fall, 90 percent will be completed with it being entirely completed in early 2024. The County will have the opportunity to comment at each milestone. Construction is scheduled for 2024 to 2027.

Leamington Deputy Mayor Larry Verbeke expressed concern about the name of the project as it does not go through Leamington, but to Ruthven. He wished the widening project would extend to County Road 31 or Highway 77 with all the greenhouse traffic.

Back in August of 2019, the office of the MTO noted traffic volumes on Highway 3 are lower heading east towards Leamington, with Essex Road 34 to Highway 77 as the lowest volume section, which is why this section was scheduled for repaving.

“MTO will continue to monitor traffic operations along that stretch, as we do on all provincial highways, to ensure the highway remains safe,” The office of the MTO stated in an email about the project to the Essex Free Press at that time.

“Being a retired farmer, I find it very upsetting that you are going to be closing these crossroads down for these big [pieces of farm] equipment,” he said, asking how farmers are expected to cross Highway 3 to attend fields.

Saulnier said the intent is for them to use signalized intersections. He added their calculations ensured that the agricultural equipment can make those turns and can make it through the intersections. The intent for closing those road accesses to Highway 3 permanently is to promote safety, so farming equipment isn’t driving across two lanes of traffic in order to get across.

Through the Ontario Land Tribunal hearing, the decision will be made as to whether or not those intersections will be closed in the near future, keeping comments and concerns from the public in mind. He said he knows the agricultural community has raised a number of concerns with the proposed road closures. He expects the farming community was vocal at that hearing. He said they are open to hearing those suggestions as they are working for the taxpayers.

“We want to do what works for everyone,” Saulnier said.

Building off Verbeke’s comments, Kingsville Deputy Mayor Kim DeYong added the concern with there being so many road closures to Highway 3 that it will have those large pieces of ag equipment being forced to use residential areas to get to where they need to be.

As a result, she worries that perhaps those more pedestrian areas may not be as safe with large farm equipment possibly having to utilize those areas to get to where they need to go. Being able to have the MTO and Kingsville work together to prevent ag equipment from getting into residential areas and across Highway 3 safely at signalized intersections would be ideal, DeYong said.

Essex Mayor Bondy noted Essex just went through the widening of Highway 3 along Essex. She noted there were many concerns and complaints from the public regarding the closing of Victoria Avenue to Highway 3.

“People from our town felt like they couldn’t get in to go shopping,” she said. In addition, she asked who she can direct residents to if they have complaints about noise from the homes near Highway 3.

She said noise mitigation is an issue for some of the homeowners located near the highway.

Saulnier suggested those with concerns to reach out to the MTO to voice their concerns.

Reps from the MTO noted they are aware of the noise concerns and it is being looked into. The MTO is working with the Town of Essex to address those concerns.

Essex Mayor Rob Shepley added there are businesses on Cameron Side Road, which may be impacted by the road closures to Highway 3.

Essex County Council authorized the Warden and the Clerk to execute an Agreement with MTO. This has to do with the day-to-day operation of the design segment and construction of the project. An agreement was required for the project.

The agreement covers things like communication, timely reviews, technical design standards, minimum maintenance requirements during construction for things like garbage collection, and allowance of the MTO to enter onto and modify County Roads.


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