Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
The impact a newly expanded Highway 7/8 would have on area farmland, emergency response times and truck and tourist access into Stratford are among the issues addressed in a joint submission to the Ministry of Transportation from the City of Stratford and its municipal partners in the County of Perth.
The mayors, CAOs and heads of the planning and public works departments for Stratford, Perth East, Perth South and Perth County met on Oct. 26 to draft a letter that encompasses the common concerns shared amongst the municipalities with regards to the highway project. The letter has subsequently been endorsed by the councils of each municipality.
The ministry is considering two alternatives for the portion of highway between New Hamburg and Stratford – one that avoids Shakespeare to the north and uses a portion of the existing highway before dipping south to connect with Line 33, and another that would head south of the village and run along the railway corridor before joining Line 33.
In their letter, the municipalities state a primary objective for the highway, regardless of the final route, must be to minimize loss to farmland.
“As the province is well aware, quality Class 1 farmland is a very valuable resource of limited quantity that cannot be regained once lost. Even the severing and division of currently productive farming operations has significant negative impacts.”
They suggest the use of existing rights of way should be maximized and that adjacent duplication be avoided. The municipalities also state they cannot support a highway that will lead to increase response times for emergency services like fire, ambulance and police.
The south bypass alternative in particular is of worry, since it has been presented as possibly having restricted road access.
“These municipalities have worked very hard and have invested heavily in an effort to improve services and achieve the response times for our local communities that we have,” the letter reads. “Our first responders need access maintained and even improved from the current conditions.”
The City of Stratford’s primary focus throughout the highway planning process has been to not disrupt trucks traveling to the industrial lands in the south end of the city, which should be less of a concern now that both route alternatives propose entering Stratford via Lorne Avenue.
The letter to the MTO states improved transportation to the area is not only important for the long-term economic viability of the lands, but would create additional capacity within the city’s core for commercial and tourist traffic.
Citing the “significant economic and employment benefits for Stratford and the entire broader community” in terms of accommodation, culinary services and other interrelated businesses, the letter also suggests it would be beneficial to maintain a direct point of access off the highway close to the tourism and commercial areas of Stratford.
The municipalities ask that traffic on the new road be able to flow at highway speeds with minimum disruptions, which they suggest can be achieved by limiting the number of traffic lights and roundabouts to urban areas and to the west of Stratford. Likewise, they ask ramps and intersection treatments be provided where needed without creating unnecessary delays or restrictions.
The letter also takes issue with the size of the roundabouts being proposed, noting concern with them being too small is magnified given the large scale farm equipment that is common on the road.
The letter ends by stating the issues outlined are key to the long-term safety, economic viability and employment growth of the involved communities.
“The municipalities will not be able to support any options presented which do not satisfy these concerns.”