Expedite highway safety: C-K council

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This image shows barriers in place west of Chatham-Kent along Highway 401, and council wants to see the province fast track the expansion of adding such barriers right through the municipality.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chatham-Kent officials are hoping the province will speed up the process of installing concrete median barriers on Highway 401.

At a recent meeting, council approved a motion from Chatham Coun. Alysson Storey to ask the Ministry of Transportation to expedite the process and also to provide a timeline for the work.

Storey’s request came following a staff engineering report detailing major upgrades planned for C-K’s stretch of the highway.

Part of the engineering report included ministry data indicating the installation of temporary cable barriers on the median has reduced the number of crossover fatalities.

Storey, a long-time proponent of highway safety and founder of the Build the Barrier advocacy group, said safety improvements on Hwy. 401 have been a “priority” of hers for many years. In 2017, Storey started the grassroots effort after losing a friend and her friend’s child when an impaired driver crossed over into incoming lanes of traffic. London resident Sara Miles Payne and her daughter Freya were killed in the collision.

Storey thanked supporters, municipal staff and former councils for advocating for barrier protection.

“You’ve helped ensure there is no more needless loss of life on this stretch of Hwy. 401,” Storey said. “It’s not a role anyone would have chosen but it’s something we can be proud of. When this is complete, we will have an up-to-date and safe Hwy. 401 like the rest of the province, and lives will be saved.”

East Kent Coun. John Wright, who owns a towing company that services the 401, said the cable barriers are working, noting his company has recovered 150 cars and close to 50 semi-trucks stopped by the cables and has had to deal with only one crossover accident since they were installed.

Chatham-Kent Fire & Rescue chief Chris Case echoed Wright.

“It has to be said that the 401 is an incredibly dangerous place to work,” Case stated. “We have seen a decrease in incidents we’ve been attending and the firefighters are extremely grateful for this work that has taken place.”

The MTO is undertaking a multi-year initiative to widen and improve 118 kilometres of Highway 401 from Tilbury to London. It includes expanding the stretch from four lanes to six lanes, erecting the concrete median, resurfacing the road from Bloomfield Road to Victoria Road, as well as a major upgrade to the Bloomfield Road interchange.

The work will see Bloomfield Road closed for a lengthy period – possibly a year or longer – as the bridges over Jeanette’s Creek and one on the Flook and Hinton drain are being replaced, and work to raise the grade at the Bloomfield interchange will be carried out as well.

Edward Soldo, C-K’s general manager of infrastructure and engineering, said the project will be designed in 2024 with construction to begin in 2025, slated for completion in 2026-27.

The municipality will work on detours routes when plans are finalized, Soldo said.

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