The pen has been put to paper to officially begin phase one of the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway from the Ontario border to Kenora by spring of 2022.
The announcement was made Friday at the Ontario/Manitoba border by Ontario's Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, and Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry.
Prior to the official announcement, the two ministers signed two contracts with Indigenous partners for early works to produce the raw materials needed to build the road base and for clearing work, including tree and brush removal, within the new right of way for the first section of the Highway 17 twinning.
“It’s 14 years in the making. Today the twinning is beginning, and what’s behind that line is an enormous amount of work, and good faith efforts by the communities that have come together to shore up the only section of Canada’s TransCanada highway that is not twinned,” said Minister Rickford.
“This project has been on the table for over a decade, but it’s our government under the leadership of Premier Ford that is finally getting construction started,” added Minister Mulroney.
Phase one will be the 6.5 kilometre stretch from the border to the junction of Highway 673 and the Trans-Canada.
Rickford said following the announcement the preliminary steps such as the clearing portion with take place as early as December to make work for the construction phase to begin next year.
No expected timeline has been made clear of when phase one will be completed, or when phase two or three will begin.
When the original project was announced over a decade ago, the federal and provincial governments each set aside $50 million for the project. The funds were announced by former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Rickford – while he was a federal MP for the Kenora riding.
The initial $100 million announced in 2009 was spent on twinning a highway east of Thunder Bay in 2017 due to a lack of action on the local twinning project. The Ontario Conservatives later put funding back in for the project in their 2019 Spring Budget.
“I think as the way things turn out I’m tremendously grateful that I made a decision and was received to be the Member of Provincial Parliament because provincially I have had a lot more ability to actually push this project forward,” concluded Rickford.
Just down the road, another important piece of the twinning project has begun as road improvements of Highway 673 that is the lifeline to the Shoal Lake No. 39 community have been ongoing for a couple of months now.
“This is truly a historic moment between the working relationships between the provincial government, and First Nation communities in their territory. This has been years in the making to get to this point,” said Fred Green, Iskatewizaagegan No.39 Independent First Nation Band Councilor
Shoal Lake #39, or Iskatewizaagegan #39 First Nation, along with the Four Winds Partnership of Washagamis Bay, Wauzhushk Onigum, Shoal Lake #40 and the Dalles, gave Ontario their conditional consent to start the twinning work earlier this year, as long as Ontario honours a set of commitments.