What the Tories' new budget has in store for Ontario commuters

Trains. Highways. Electric vehicles. Here’s where the Tories plan to make their transportation investments
By Nathaniel Basen - Published on Mar 24, 2021
Ontario will spend $21 billion over 10 years to expand and repair highways and bridges. (iStock/IMNATURE)

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As it stands today, most Ontarians are being asked to stay at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — but that won’t always be the case. The province’s transportation plan is critical both to handle a population that is expected to increase by more than 30 per cent in the next three decades and to meet its greenhouse-gas-emissions targets. This year’s provincial budget plan contains more than $8 billion in spending on transportation infrastructure in 2021-22 alone and restates Ontario’s goal of becoming a world leader in the development of electric vehicles.

Here’s what the budget means for Ontarians trying to get around.


Trains

The Tories’ budget plan outlines a commitment to turn the GO rail network into a “comprehensive, all-day rapid transit network” that provides two-way service every 15 minutes in core areas. The province believes that improved service will help double ridership by 2055. One key priority: improving service to the Kitchener region. According to the budget document, the Kitchener GO expansion will “strengthen the connection between Waterloo Region and the Greater Golden Horseshoe” by building new tracks and stations and upgrading existing infrastructure.

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It also contains $1 billion for transit in Hamilton, which includes spending on light rail, and money for subways in the GTA — it'll be “moving forward” with the city’s SmartTrack plan, and aims to get shovels in the ground for priority stations “as early as 2026.”

Notably, the province dedicated $5 million to study the potential for passenger-rail service in northern Ontario. As TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath notes, the Liberal government cancelled plans for rail service in 2012. An initial business case for a line running from Toronto to Cochrane is expected this spring.


Highways

Ontario will spend $21 billion over 10 years to expand and repair highways and bridges. The money will go toward widening Highway 400; expanding Highways 6 and 401 between Guelph and Hamilton; and the new Bradford Bypass, which connects the 400 and the 404, among other priorities. (The Bradford Bypass is referred to as “the Holland Marsh Highway” by environmental groups opposed to the development.)

Missing from the budget is any funding for Highway 413 — the controversial proposal that would run through the western GTA. The Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie asked Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy about the lack of funding in a media briefing earlier on Wednesday, and the minister said that the highway was still in environmental assessment. He also noted, however, that some of the project’s proponents have changed their mind.


Electric vehicles​​​​​​​

Whether it’s by car, bus, or train, the province is hoping that your travel will soon be powered by a battery. The budget plan touts $4.3 billion in investment from automakers, such as General Motors, to build electric vehicles in Ontario. To help that along, the province introduced the $56.4 million Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network to develop the next generation of electric vehicles.

The lithium-ion batteries for EVs require minerals and precious metals, and Ontario wants to provide battery-makers with a reliable supply from the province’s north. The new critical-minerals strategy, which is still under development, will “support the mining industry, high-growth sectors, innovative clean technologies, and the transition to a low-carbon economy both at home and abroad.”

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