By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The path of least resistance is causing some serious issues on Oshawa’s Harmony Road.
The main thoroughfare, which runs north to south in the city, has become a common link for drivers seeking to get off the Highway 407 and down to Highway 401, without being tolled to do so.
When the province opened the extended portion of the Highway 407, it was announced that the north/south connecting highway (Highway 412) would also be tolled. The same goes for the future Highway 418.
Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki says this has had significant traffic impacts on those living in the area along Harmony Road, and he says enough is enough.
“People can hardly get out of their driveways anymore,” he says. “This has to be addressed.”
For that reason, he’s sent a letter to Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, who has also echoed his concerns to Steven Del Duca, the Minister of Transportation.
“The City of Oshawa values and appreciates the Ministry of Transportation’s commitment to improve the transportation system to effectively move people, goods and services across the region, province and across Canada, but it is also the city’s responsibility to protect the quality of life of its residents,” Pidwerbecki states in his letter, noting that since the opening of Highway 412 in February, traffic along Simcoe Street and Harmony Road have increased significantly.
According to numbers from the Region of Durham, traffic on Harmony Road has increased by 2,000 vehicles daily, mostly due to the Highway 407 and land use growth.
“If we can get the removal of those tolls, it could have an effect on Harmony Road,” Pidwerbecki says.
In particular, the intersection of Bloor Street East and Harmony, the main artery for accessing the Highway 401 from the city’s east side has seen serious congestion in recent years.
In response to Pidwerbecki’s letter, French reached out to the province about the intersection itself, as the province had committed to transforming the intersection back in the mid- 1990s.
“Twenty years later and this promise remains unfulfilled, and my constituents continue to be subjected to congestion and diminished road safety,” she states in her letter. “With the additional pressures of the 407 extension, this is a matter that warrants your timely attention. Oshawa deserves to know whether or not they will receive the relief that we have been promised.”
In an interview with The Oshawa Express, French believes that the potential idea of restructuring the interchange, which was brought to her attention by Councillor Pidwerbecki, has been more than likely forgotten in the ensuing years.
“I’m fairly certain, just with the nature of government, that it’s in a drawer somewhere and nobody remembers it,” she said. “I wanted to put it back on their radar.”
According to Moin Khan, a senior issues advisor with the Ministry of Transportation, the redesign of the Harmony Road interchange was part of a preliminary design and environmental assessment study for Highway 401 between Brock Road and Courtice Road.
“The study proposed highway expansion along the corridor and identifies modifications to the Highway 401/Harmony Road interchange. The future widening of this section of Highway 401 is listed in the Ministry’s five-year Southern Highways Program under ‘Planning for Future beyond 2021’ but there is no timeline set for the work,” he says.
Moving forward, French acknowledges that as the region continues to grow, the pressures on local roads, especially Harmony Road are only going to increase.
“The fact that we are having increased pressures with the 407 extension, with growing north Oshawa, it’s a very, very busy road,” she says. “It’s going to be increasingly busy when we see additional pressures because it seems that people are avoiding the 412.”
And the numbers suggest much of the same, as in May of 2016, Harmony Road saw approximately 27,200 vehicles per day, and the same went for September of 2016, after the 412 opened, but tolls had yet to be put in place. However, in May of 2017, with tolls in place, Harmony Road saw approximately 28,900 vehicles daily.
French say the fact that the 412 and future 418 are the only tolled north/south connectors to the 401 isn’t fair to this area, and that it’s indicative of a much larger issue.
“We’re entirely ignored and neglected and I would say targeted,” she says. “Anything east of Toronto doesn’t exist, until we make noise, and when we make noise, it seems that we’re punished as a result.”
French reiterated the calls made by Pidwerbecki and several local councils in Durham Region that tolls need to be removed from the 412 and future 418.
However, the province says that there are no plans for those fees to be removed.
“Financing and construction for Highway 412 and Highway 418 proceeded on the understanding that they would be tolled highways,” Khan says. “Currently, there are no plans to eliminate tolls on Highway 412 or Highway 418. The decision to toll these highways was not made lightly, and is why the province has set tolls significantly below the rate charged by 407 ETR. We will continue to monitor the highway to adjust these rates in line with demand.”