That a government-funded infrastructure program would come in over-budget and past-deadline is not an anomaly; rather, this is what’s known as “business as usual.”
But check out the curious case of the $616-million Hwy. 427 extension in Vaughan, Ont. This patch of eight-lane blacktop is a different kind of fiasco. You see, the highway extension opened on Sept. 18, 2021. But here’s the kicker: it had already been completed and was ready for commuters in September 2020 — a full year ago!
Talk about adding insult to injury. The extension was first announced in 2013 when the Liberals were in power in Ontario. Construction finally kicked off three years ago. And last September, this 6.6-km, eight-lane extension was a fact of infrastructure life.
So, the question arises: why did it take 12 full months before the first beleaguered commuter could finally drive north of Hwy. 7 (where Hwy. 427 used to come to a grinding halt)?
Well, here’s the deal: as commuters fumed in the de rigueur gridlock in this part of the Greater Toronto Area, lawyers for the provincial government and the consortium of construction companies known as Link427 battled it out in court.
The government claimed the highway was unsafe due to drainage considerations, and withheld $144 million in payments to Link427. Link427 alleged that the government changed the rules during the project, forcing the matter to court. (At time of writing, neither the provincial government nor Link427 were commenting.) The consortium claimed that the safety allegation was false, and that the extension was certified as being safe.
In documents obtained by Global News, the provincial government maintained that the builders didn’t make the highway safe enough.
We checked out the highway the day before opening. Oddly, a construction worker shooed us off the site, because it was allegedly unsafe for me to be on the shoulder of an empty highway. It was doubly odd, given that Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, Premier Doug Ford and other senior members of the PC government shot a self-congratulatory PR video in which they marched right down the deserted highway, bragging about how they’re making the lives of Ontarians that much better.
Indeed, they bragged how commuters can now save “up to 25 minutes in travel time during peak periods” thanks to the extension. Too bad it only took eight years (including a year in which the extension was finished but not put to use) to deliver that 25 minutes of rush hour relief to commuters. But then again, government operates at the speed of molasses going uphill in winter, so it seldom needs a highway when the long and winding scenic route will do...