By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The relationship between Ontario drivers and Highway 407 has always been a contentious one.
On one hand, the tolled roadway offers a significantly faster and less congested route through the GTA. But at the same time, drivers are paying to use it, and these costs can add up fast.
For example, if someone wanted to use the 407 to get from Simcoe Street in Oshawa to Highway 404 north of Toronto around 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, they would pay a total of $18.97.
However, if the motorist owns a transponder that cost reduces to $14.77.
If someone decided to take the same route between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., the costs would decrease to $14.41 and $10.21 respectively. If using the 407 many times during the week, drivers often scratch their heads trying to make sense of how they owe so much.
Until a few years ago, easy access to the 407 was not a luxury for those in the eastern part of Durham Region.
For a decade-and-a-half, the highway ended at its eastern boundary of Highway 7 in Pickering.
This all changed in 2016 when an extension to Oshawa opened to the public, but more on that later.
The concept of a highway allowing drivers in the GTA to bypass the over-congested Highway 401 goes all the way back to the late 1950s.
However, the idea began to pick up momentum in the 1980s as population growth exploded in Toronto.
In 1987, under the leadership of Liberal Premier David Peterson, construction began on the 407.
To the chagrin of motorists, the new highway would include tolls.
In 1990, the Bob Rae-led NDP government took power in Ontario, continuing on with the project.
But the effect of the economic downturn of the early 90s took its toll on the construction industry, and the 407 would not open until June 1997.
The original stretch spanned from Highway 410 in Peel Region to Highway 404.
Eastern extensions to Markham Road and McCowan Road opened within the next two years.
By now, Ontario was under a Conservative government led by Mike Harris.
Harris swept into a majority through the wave of a movement called the Common Sense Revolution, which aimed to find as many efficiencies in government spending as possible.
This led to deep cuts in the healthcare and education sectors, among other areas, including the possibility of selling off provincially-owned assets.
Eventually, Harris signed off on a 99-year, $3.1 billion lease agreement with a conglomerate of corporations, giving them universal control over the highway and its tolls.
To his credit, it was the first time in history that the province had made a profit from the building of a major highway. On the flip side, the province lost control over the cost of tolls.
The move faced great criticism as two decades later the 407 is worth $30 billion.
The extension of the highway to Highway 7 in Pickering finished in 2001, and this would remain the eastern boundary of the 407 for 15 years.
Then in 2007, a new era began.
The province promised an extension to Highway 115 in Clarington, with an original completion date of 2013.
In 2009, then-premier Dalton McGuinty confirmed the extension would have tolls, and be owned by the Province of Ontario.
But in 2010, the province made a huge turnabout and said it planned to build the extension in phases, with the first phase going to Simcoe Street in Oshawa.
Local politicians and residents were outraged at this news, with then Regional Chair the late-Roger Anderson saying the province had lied to Durham.
With pressure on from the region, the Wynne government reaffirmed its commitment to build the extension all the way to the 115, with the first phase extended to end at Harmony Road instead of Simcoe Street.
But the bad news that came along with that was the push back of the project’s completion to 2019 or 2020.
Included in this plan were two feeder routes, Highway 412 outside of Whitby and Highway 418 in Clarington, which is still under construction.
In the months leading up to construction, the Ministry of Transportation cut down trees and expropriated more than 340 homes.
One couple, 90-year-old Anton Kapostins and his 88-year-old wife Gaida, refused to leave their home and were escorted out by Ministry workers and members of Durham Regional Police.
Another home destroyed in Clarington was the Samuel McLellan House, which was more than 100 years old.
The project started with a goal of opening in December 2015, but that was later delayed to open on the final day of spring, June 20, 2016.
Provincial and local politicians put on their best smiles during a much-ballyhooed unveiling that took place on the pavement of the 407 itself.
With cars now wheeling onto the highway, Durham motorists would quickly voice their disproval at having to pay to actually access it.
Highway 412 is the only connector road to the 407 which motorists must also pay tolls.
This is a fact that stuck in the craw of Anderson.
“Aren’t you happy that you are the only folks who have to pay tolls to get on it,” Anderson said while speaking to the Oshawa-Parkwood Rotary Club in December 2017. “Just let me give you some of the highways they don’t toll, the 404, 427, 403, 410, 401…any north-south street in Toronto…pick a street, you don’t pay.”
Former Oshawa Mayor and current Regional Chair John Henry also criticized the use of tolls on Highway 412.
Henry has alleged the highway is often barren, with just a small scattering of vehicles.
Prior to the Ford government’s election in 2018, MPPs across Durham pledged to fight to have the tolls removed.
One year later, they still remain.
However, Durham MPP Lindsey Park and Whitby MPP Lorne Coe recently told The Oshawa Express they are continuing to work on the issue.
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French tabled a private member’s bill last fall to have the tolls removed from the 412 and also the future Highway 418, a connector road currently under construction outside of Bowmanville.
When and if the tolls will go remains to be seen.
The 407 has now been moved slightly east with ramps open to Trull’s Road in Clarington.
Even with the bumps in the road, it won’t be long before motorists can traverse from county cottage across the GTA without ever driving a kilometre on 401, representing an exciting new frontier in Ontario.