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Lengthy road closures unacceptable: NEOMA

By Len Gillis

Northeastern Ontario municipal leaders have voiced a concern about the overall condition of northern highways and the need to solve the problem of highways being shut down for several hours in the winter, because of poor maintenance and highway crashes. The issue was discussed Friday at the winter meeting of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA), which was held in Timmins.

Northeastern Ontario municipal leaders have voiced a concern about the overall condition of northern highways and the need to solve the problem of highways being shut down for several hours in the winter, because of poor maintenance and highway crashes. The issue was discussed Friday at the winter meeting of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA), which was held in Timmins.

The mayor of Hearst is asking other municipalities around Northeastern Ontario to send a common message to Queen’s Park that some action is needed to deal with the increasing number of highway closures, especially on Highway 11.

 

Mayor Roger Sigouin argued that point Friday at the winter meeting of the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association (NEOMA) which was held in Timmins and attended by municipal leaders from across the Cochrane District.

 

“Well, I hope NEOMA is going to put a lot of pressure on government and say, ‘Hey, we do have a problem.’ We’re on the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s an important highway for the truckers, and for families travelling to see doctors in Thunder Bay or North Bay or Timmins,” said Sigouin.

 

“When we do have a road closure, it is really serious. Especially when you’re talking about 10 hours, or even just six hours.”

Sigouin said it might not be so bad for truckers, because many of those big rigs have sleeper cabs, where the driver can stretch out and get caught up on lost sleep.

“But what about those families with kids in the car?”

 

Sigouin said Highway 11, which travels through Hearst, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Cochrane and Matheson is the only major highway connecting those communities. When a road closure happens, those communities are out of touch for hours, he said.

 

At the same time, said Sigouin, people can be stuck in their vehicles out on the side of the highway during a road closure. He said this could include sick people on their way to a medical appointment or children in a school bus. He said in some cases, drivers are left alone on the highway for hours at a time because sometimes there is no detour available. He said turning around to go back to the last town might mean a drive of two or three hours. In the case of large trucks, it is impossible for them to turn around.

 

Sigouin said there is no easy solution. But he did mention there was a serious truck crash a few years ago, east of Hearst, that resulted in the highway being shut down for several hours. He said a local farmer took matters into his own hands. He said the farmer took a tractor and plowed a short detour road across frozen land so that traffic could begin moving. He said that is an indicator of how serious the problem is.

 

Sigouin also suggested that for whatever reason a road is closed, there should be a cap on the number of hours the highway is shut down, or the road should be re-opened for brief periods, to let drivers get by.

 

Sigouin said there needs to be a united front from across Northern Ontario to argue for better highway conditions.

 

Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis said the highway issue is indeed a pan-Northern concern, especially for those communities along Highway 11, which he called the Highway to Hell.

 

“Unfortunately, the highway conditions in this part of province are deteriorating on a regular basis,” said Politis.

 

He said Northern communities need to band together the way they did on such issues as nuisance black bears and community policing costs.

 

“The standard that we live at here in this part of the province needs to be the same standard that everybody lives at,” said Politis.

 

The highway concern was also endorsed by Timmins Coun. Mike Doody, who was elected at the new president of NEOMA on Friday.

Doody said he and his family noticed first-hand in the past two weeks just how rough things are on Northern highways. Doody said he made three road trips to Sudbury on Highway 144 for medical reasons, and on one of those trips, a family member remarked that Queen’s Park politicians need to see how poor the roads are. He said the roads are a “disgrace”.

 

“You know what she said to me, the premier and many of those ministers; they shouldn’t fly up here. Let them get in a car and come up here if they have to go to Kap or Hearst or come to Timmins or Sudbury. Let them drive Highway 144,” Doody recalled.

 

He added that the northern section of Highway 144 from Timmins to Halfway Lake Provincial Park wasn’t too bad.

 

“From Halfway Park right into the City of Sudbury, it was like a Third World-type of highway.”

 

He mentioned that on his final trip home from Sudbury this week, he hit a pothole that was so bad he had to bring his car to a Timmins body shop for repairs on Thursday afternoon.

 

“It is a disgrace really to have to drive those highways the way they are being maintained,” said Doody.

 

He said the Ontario government needs to throw infrastructure money into Northern highways not for improvements, but just to bring them up to some minimum standards.


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