More than 120 people packed a meeting room Nov. 30 to show their support to erect concrete barriers along Highway 401.
Organizers of the Build a Barrier meeting were amazed at the support.
“We had no idea how many to expect. It was just packed,” Chatham-Kent Essex MPP Rick Nicholls said of the turnout at the Active Lifestyle Centre.
A 119-kilometre stretch of Hwy. 401, from Hwy. 4 in Lambeth to Queen’s Line in Tilbury, has no barrier to prevent vehicles from crossing the median and heading into oncoming traffic. There have been serious, even fatal, accidents this year along that stretch of highway, including the deaths of Sarah and Freya Payne in August when a tractor-trailer crossed the centre median and hit them head on.
“This is a we-care community. People are concerned about the safety of our highways,” Nicholls said. “And so they are rallying together.”
Alysson Storey, friends of Sarah and Freya Payne and a driving force behind the Build-a-Barrier movement, was equally impressed with the support last Thursday.
“It was a great turnout. It’s obviously an issue that is really resonating with people,” she said. “There were a lot of good questions. A lot of people shared stories on how concrete medians saved their lives or the lives of a loved one.”
Those in attendance included people who lost loved ones or friends along that stretch of highway, first responders, and interested citizens.
Nicholls said the effort to get the government’s attention has worked.
“We’re starting to get some traction. I’ve been working with government officials to see what can be done,” he said.
But what might be erected is a cable barrier, a cheaper and faster-to-install option than concrete. Nicholls and Storey don’t like the idea.
“We need concrete. It’s probably the most expensive option, but it’s permanent,” Nicholls said. “If you have a vehicle that loses control and could possibly cross the median and go into oncoming traffic, they’ll bounce off a concrete barrier – their speed is drastically reduced. They’ll be some sideswipes as the vehicle comes back into its lanes, but these aren’t head-on collisions.”
“We don’t want the cheapest option. We want the safest option,” Storey said. “There shouldn’t be an argument. Why are we putting a dollar sign on the cost of our loved ones’ lives?”
Nicholls said a retired firefighter from Leamington spoke up at the meeting against the use of cable barriers.
“He’s seen what cable barriers can do to people in convertibles and on motorcycles. They lose limbs,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want something that will stop a vehicle.”
The corridor between London and Windsor may not have the same overall vehicular traffic volumes as compared to the 401 to the east, but Nicholls said the number of transports on that road is “massive.”
“It seems every other vehicle is a tractor trailers these days, and it’s only going to get worse,” she said, pointing to the second bridge crossing planned for Windsor and Detroit that has a 2022 expected completion date.
Storey and Nicholls said winter is coming and with it comes cooler temperatures, blowing snow and poor road conditions.
“There’s no room for error. You are across that median in the blink of an eye. When you’re coming into oncoming traffic, usually the only result is death,” Storey said.
“That stretch between Queen’s Line and Bloomfield Road is dangerous because of the curves and the wind,” Nicholls said. “We’ve had several occurrences where trucks hit ice, lost control in a bend and went straight across. They ended up in the far ditch across the other lanes.”
Storey said the lack of a median along that stretch of the 401 is an old issue. What’ frustrating for her is so far nothing has been done to solve it, and people are dying because of it.
“They seem to have lots of money for what they call 401 safety improvements in a Liberal-friendly riding in Cambridge,” she said of the Kathleen Wynn government. “They’ve also got three lanes and concrete medians there. Political stripes shouldn’t matter when saving lives.”
Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry announced that an additional $96 million is headed to that community to improve safety and traffic flow through Cambridge on the 401.
Nicholls said following last week’s Build a Barrier meeting, the government is reconsidering the cable barriers.
“There’s no indication they’ll go concrete, but they’re doing more investigation into it,” he said.
Storey credited Nicholls with his aggressive pursuit in this matter.
“Our own MPP is the hardest working MPP on this issue. Rick has done an amazing job advocating for us,” she said.
For Nicholls, he said he’d consider it a victory if the concrete barriers went in between Queen’s Line in Tilbury and Kent Bridge Road.
“It would be a small victory, but a victory nonetheless,” he said.