No change on the interchange is the message the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) is giving the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), Champlain Township, and the Town of Hawkesbury over plans to reconstruct the Highway 34 and County Road 17 interchange. And local governments are not happy.

The MTO was planning to rebuild the 65 year-old bridge and ramps, along with the adjacent bridge across the railway tracks on County Road 17 in 2019, but objections from the UCPR and the two municipalities over the proposed design of the new ramps and traffic lanes led to it being put on hold.

Highway 17 was downloaded to the UCPR in 1998 but the MTO retained jurisdiction over the interchange and railway crossing.

On February 5, Senior Project Engineer Brian Utigard of MTO Eastern Region in Kingston wrote to UCPR Engineer Jérémie Bouchard and stated that the ministry will proceed with plans to have the new east and westbound on-ramps from Highway 34 meet 17 at right angles with stop signs, rather than merge lanes.  Existing lanes for acceleration and turning on both highways will also be removed.

Utigard’s letter stated that the MTO’s plan was verified by a study it commissioned and that the option is the safest for the location.  The ministry completed the environmental study report for the design in February and began a 30-day public comment period.

Both Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel and Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly have expressed strong objections to the proposed interchange design in the past.  Champlain is sending another strongly worded letter of objection to the MTO, following a discussion at the township’s recent committee of the whole meeting.

Bridge replacement, work discussed at Champlain Township meeting

West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gérard Miner is standing firm in his belief that if the project proceeds as planned, “they are going to create what existed for years” at the intersection of Highway 34 and Highway 417 near Herb’s Travel Plaza, where accidents were frequent.

“You are going to have a situation where you have a vehicle of 80,000 or 100,000 lbs. take off from a full stop to merge into traffic,” Miner explained.

Miner suggested that the township send a letter to the MTO reiterating the township’s objection, because it took years to solve the problem at the Herb’s/Highway 34 intersection.

Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel agreed, recalling that there were seven engineers at the township council meeting to review the project, but that he also disagreed with the project as it was being presented.

“That was a farce,” said Miner, noting that one of the experts in the delegation became angry at the questions being asked by council. “I wanted to ask why come here at all if you didn’t want to answer any questions? As far as I am concerned — the stronger the better as far as that letter (to the MT)) is concerned.”

Vankleek Hill ward councillor Peter Barton pointed out that he had asked the engineers for a proposal without the 90-degree stop.

“They told me they would provide us with a non-conforming diagram,” Barton said, adding, “But we never received it.”

“Why would they do that? The ramps are already there,” interjected L’Orignal ward councillor Jacques Lacelle.

Returning to the letter to be sent to the MTO, Miner said that the letter should list the names of those that the township is holding responsible for any occurrences that happen and that the letter should mention the longstanding problem at the corner of Highway 34 and 417 and mention that it took more than 20 years to fix that problem.

On February 14, Matthew McFadden of Jacobs, the engineering firm contracted by the MTO for the design of interchange sent a letter to Champlain Township defending the proposed design and assuring that the concerns expressed by the township were taken into consideration.

The Town of Hawkesbury is also still waiting for a response from the MTO about switching the Highway 34 Connecting Link route through part of town.

A Connecting Link is the official route of a provincial highway through an urban area on a municipal street.  In Hawkesbury, Highway 34 follows McGill Street, Main Street, and John Street to the Long Sault Bridge.  The MTO generally provides funding to municipalities for road work on connecting link routes.

The town would like to have the route changed to follow Le Chenail Boulevard from Main Street to John Street instead.

Hawkesbury Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Gatien said the town is awaiting an agreement with the MTO to change the connecting link.

The ministry is planning to pay for changes to the lane markings and traffic light functions at the McGill-Main-Le Chenail intersection to facilitate the extra traffic that will result from the detour when the Highway 13 and 17 interchange is closed for reconstruction.