Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Municipal leaders from Perth County, Stratford, Perth East and Perth South will meet later this month to address some of their common concerns regarding the eventual rebuild of Highway 7/8.
Those identified issues will then be passed on to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and its consulting team, whose window for public feedback on the highway closes Oct. 31.
At a county council meeting Thursday, Warden Ian Forrest suggested it would be to the municipalities’ benefit to approach the MTO as a collective rather than each respond with their own separate agendas. Speaking from his past experience dealing with the province, Forrest noted, “if the four affected municipalities are on the same page ... there’s a far better chance of us being listened to.”
Perth East resident Coun. Bob McMillan addressed some of the concerns that have come to light after the most recent round of information sessions, where the public was presented with the varied options being looked at for intersection treatments and other road details. Most of the fears focus around the bypass alternative that would avoid Shakespeare by dipping south around Road 107 and cutting a new highway along the railway corridor before connecting with Line 33 into Stratford.
He called the loss of farmland that would result from the southerly route “atrocious,” noting the MTO seems to be taking the area’s agricultural land for granted.
McMillan said the south bypass as proposed would have restricted access, and that he’s worried the EMS and fire department will have difficulty servicing the area.
Another reason he prefers the north bypass is because it would use a portion of the existing highway west of Shakespeare, whereas if the southerly route is selected, the fear is that the cost of maintaining the road will be downloaded to the local municipalities.
Forrest also noted not everyone likes the idea of roundabouts, which the MTO has proposed for several intersections as an alternative to a stop-controlled intersection with lights or stop signs. He questioned how well they would work given the large farm equipment that is commonly driven on the road.
McMillan maintains with a few improvements to sightlines, much of the safety concerns with the existing highway between New Hamburg and Shakespeare could be resolved – and that a new highway is not needed, even given the MTO’s longterm traffic projections.
He said the desire for a new highway and one that utilizes Lorne Avenue has been pushed for by Stratford, but the county and lower tiers will support the project provided it’s done right, meaning the road is safe and accessible for people who live and work in the area, and has the least number of negative impacts.
Looking ahead to next week’s meeting with municipal leaders, McMillan suggested there would be certain issues – such as the possibility of increased ambulance response times with the southerly alternative – that would be of concern to all of the municipalities.
“I think we have some commonalities that we can discuss and hopefully come to a consensus,” he said. “There’s not guarantee on that, but it’s worth having the discussion.”