The government of Ontario released its budget on Thursday and one big ticket item was front and centre: highways.
The budget documents, which kick off with a cover image of a highway, revealed an increased budget for Ontario highway planning and construction, jumping roughly $4B to a new total of $25.1B. The money, the Ford government says, is to be allocated over the next 10 years.
MORE BUDGET COVERAGE:
- No Fresh Housing Initiatives Announced in Ontario Provincial Budget
- Ontario Earmarks $2B for Infrastructure and $19B for LTB, OLT
No new projects were announced in the budget, with funding set to go towards the QEW Garden City Skyway rehabilitation project, the construction of two bridges over the Grand River, the new Highway 7 construction, and the widening of Highway 17. Beginning this year, $492.7M will be invested into Northern Ontario's highways, with a reconstruction of Highway 101 through Timmins planned.
Of course construction of the Bradford Bypass and the controversial Highway 413 were included as key infrastructure projects, but the government did not provide any specifics on how much these two projects will cost. Both undertakings are being marketed as a solution to Ontario's gridlock problems, but they have drawn fervent backlash from some Ontarians. Highway 413 in particular has spurred widespread concern from environmentalists, as well as elicited negative reactions from experts who believe the new highway will cost the province significant money but have no impact on traffic flow.
During a speech prior to presenting the budget, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy framed the province's highway investments as a necessity that was ignored by previous governments.
"Ontario's growth is not just putting pressure on housing," Bethlenfalvy said. "It's also putting unprecedented pressure on our roads, on our highways, on transit, and other infrastructure. Today as I give this speech, tens of thousands of people are stuck on the 400 series highways because for decades the previous government was unable to get things done. The previous government and its transportation minister didn't even try. It's like they were allergic to concrete."
Other Ontario party leaders took aim at Ford's budget, with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath saying a statement that "it’s clearer than ever that Doug Ford will keep choosing his buddies over the rest of us, and people will keep paying the price."
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner dubbed the fiscal plan as a "1950s-era Sprawl Budget."
"We’re in a climate emergency and a cost of living crisis," Schreiner said. "But Doug Ford wants to pump a staggering $25 billion into more highways and sprawl that will pollute the air, make life even more expensive, pave over the farmland that feeds us and destroy the nature that protects us from flooding. The fact the cover of the budget is literally a picture of a highway tells you all you need to know about Doug Ford’s anti-climate, pro-sprawl agenda."