MTO begins planning process for a Northern Ontario 2+1 highway pilot project

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ONTARIO – The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has begun the preliminary stages of exploring a 2+1 highway pilot project in Northern Ontario.

Natasha Tremblay, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney, emailed The Expositor last week to share an update following last week’s Page 12 story ‘Innovative 2+1 highway pilot projects advocated for North on hold in Ontario.’

That story, which was written in 2020, stated that the Ontario government was not presently considering a pilot project to implement a test section of 2+1 highway in the province. This was based on September 2020 comments, at which time there were no plans for this highway test bed.

“At the direction of Minister Mulroney, the ministry has established a working group to develop the required standards and to identify a location on a provincial highway as a pilot project for the implementation of the 2+1 roadway model. This working group includes representation from Going the Extra Mile for Safety (GEMS). We expect to have further updates to share in the coming months,” stated Ms. Tremblay in an email to The Expositor.

The concept of 2+1 highways is popular in Europe but uncommon in North America. It involves three lanes of traffic, with each direction of travel trading off two-lane sections. 

This is similar to the passing lane setup on Highway 17, except one direction will always have a passing lane while the other has a single lane. The side with the passing lane switches back and forth every few kilometres to aid in traffic flows.

There is also a solid divider between the two directions of traffic. This reduces head-on crashes and deters drivers from making risky passing manoeuvres.

GEMS is a part of the Temiskaming Shores and Area Chamber of Commerce. Its members have long advocated for a pilot project to study the benefits of a 2+1 highway in Northern Ontario, where road fatalities are twice as high as in southern Ontario.

The committee has been calling for a 35.4-kilometre pilot project along Highway 11 to study the 2+1 design’s efficacy. The new model can largely be built on the existing road bed (though it works best with a slightly widened base) for roughly one quarter of the cost of a fully twinned freeway like Highway 69 north of French River.

Last summer, Minister Mulroney met with GEMS to explore the possibility of proceeding with a pilot project. She then tasked staffers to create the framework for a pilot project somewhere along the provincial highway network. There have been no announcements about any pending potential pilot project placements.

The outcome of this process was a working group including GEMS members and transport ministry officials, formally created in the fall of 2020. That group first met on December 18 of that year.

A GEMS official declined to comment on the proposal at its current early stage, but both that official and Ms. Tremblay indicated an official press release would be coming in the following months.

The 2+1 model may be a potential future fit for Highway 6 north of Manitoulin, where advocates have long called for more passing lanes.