Friday, June 21, 2024
On the Road with Mike MurchisonOpinion/ColumnRoad Safety DiscussionTrucking

40 years waiting for Northern Ontario roads to be improved: “Not in my lifetime,” career driver says

by Mike Murchison

So, let’s weigh in on the shape of the highways in Northern Ontario. I’m referring to Highways 11 and 17. The “Trans Canada” highway. The main east-west corridor that gets you from the Manitoba border down to southern Ontario and Quebec; as well as down to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan via Sault Ste Marie.

When I started trucking, Mulroney was Prime Minister. His government was more interested in free trade and installing the now-too-familiar GST, which promised to make things do much better for Canadians…(insert cricket sounds and deer in the headlight glares here).

His government didn’t want to touch the improvement and upgrade costs of either highway 11 or 17.

Enter the Chretien Liberals.

Even that experienced ‘little guy from Shawinigan Quebec was wise enough to stay clear of such a hot topic.

And so it continues on through to the Harper Conservatives and now back to the Trudeau (up to our asses in debt) Liberals.

What government would want to tackle the multi billon dollar price tag of four laning the Trans Canada through northern Ontario?

Yes, it should’ve been done decades ago. But its like that one relative you have to visit from time to time. But you’d rather not. They leave you with an uncomfortable feeling.

Trucks got bigger, faster. Trailers got longer, heavier. Delivery times were tweaked so fine you couldn’t waste a minute. Weather be damned.

Saddle ’em up, boys.

Twenty-eight hours from the GTA to a Winnipeg loading dock. Forty-six from the GTA to a Calgary dock. All on a highway for the majority of (1936km) is two lane with dirt shoulders limited rest areas and parking obtained by parking on mostly private property.

Highway 17, for the most part very scenic, is a small-scale version of the Rocky Mountains. Endless curves, hills, corners and weather. You name it: fog, snow, rain, whiteouts and the freezing rains of November.

Highway 11: mostly flat. Ice covered. Cold as hell and smack dab in the middle between Lake Superior and James Bay. 

How many times has Captain John Franklin and the doomed exposition to discover the Northwest Passage crossed my mind when I travelled that highway in the frozen winter.

Or visions of the Edmund Fitzgerald filling my head while I’m trying to hold back 50 tons while descending down the Montreal River hill with Lake Superior waiting at the bottom  during a deluge of freezing November rain 

I know the governments are not responsible for the weather. However, I do believe they are responsible for upkeep, upgrades and improvements to the infrastructure of this country.

I lost count, over the years, of how many accidents I’ve come across on both those highways; how trucks somehow ended up in the ditch. Lost the road in a whiteout. Fell asleep trying to find a place to pull over. And sadly, those who lost their lives just doing their job on an outdated highway that at least four decades of governments never really gave a damn about. Why?

My thinking is simply that the multi billion dollar price tag to upgrade and four lane either highway 11 and or 17 wouldn’t return any benefits back to the federal, provincial or municipal money chests.

There’s no money in highways and rest areas. All they’d be creating is just a big highway. A safer one mind you.

There is no guarantee that new businesses would open and flourish. Or new subdivisions, for that matter.

None of that would happen unless the resources of the Ring of Fire were exploited. The iron ore, the gold, silver, uranium and any other resources that can be extracted.

We know that First Nation treaty claims and ongoing court cases would have an impact on whether or not the bulldozers and rock blasters  go to work.

It’s sad that men and women have to risk their lives driving those highways. Year after year; near miss after near miss. Couple that up with poorly trained Drivers from geographical locations who have little to no experience operating big equipment in such cold areas on outdated poorly maintained highways in such poor shape.

It’s an old song. Worn out. I don’t believe this current government nor the next will have the slightest interest in doing major upgrades to these highways 

They know its the main east-west trade corridor. The modern-day Northwest Passage. They know if they can ignore it long enough the whoopla will die down until the next major accident. Which just seems to become a normal thing. An expected thing. Every winter.

It’s one of the reasons I stopped running to Ontario. My gut was telling me after one too many close calls that my number was coming up.

Many don’t have the choice. Many have to run those highways in order to keep their jobs. To them, go my thoughts and safe prayers.

Yes, it is the True North. It is the Strong and Free. But sadly, its highways are very outdated and a continuous risk to those trying to earn a living.

I don’t know in my lifetime if I will ever see the Trans Canada  highway upgraded in northern Ontario. When I first started driving, that’s what I always heard the old timers say….

“Nope…not in my lifetime,” they’d say.