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Chambers call for Highway 11 upgrades.

The Northeastern Ontario Chamber of Commerce (NOCC) wants to reduce white knuckle drives on Highway 11.

The organization, which represents 24 chambers from Moosonee to Parry Sound, is asking Queen's Park for more passing lanes on the northern leg of what it deems is a major national highway.

Not only do community leaders want them added, they want the province to smooth out some rough patches in the North Bay-to-Hearst section.

The call for highway upgrades is nothing new, acknowledges NOCC chairman Steve Kidd.

With the Ontario government gradually closing the gap in four-laning the last 47 kilometres of Highway 11, south of North Bay, by 2012, the associated chambers want their concerns kept in the public eye.

Kidd says he's seen little evidence in the province's new road plans that passing lanes are in the offing for the northern half of Highway 11.

He says upgrades are underway on Highways 144 and 655 in the Timmins area, but Highway 11 is a cross-Canada route used by long-haul truck drivers "and it needs some attention."

As a frequent Highway 11 motorist working as telecommunications company executive, Kidd realizes highway infrastructure improvements pose a daunting funding challenge to cover all of Ontario. But it's most pressing in the North.

Highway upgrades not only represent a vital economic link, says Kidd, it's a general safety concern.

The lack of passing lanes, especially when factoring in winter conditions, transport traffic, impatient drivers and senior citizen motorists, can make for a dangerous combination.

"We'd all love to have four lanes, but we realize that's not realistic given the traffic volumes, but in terms of safety more passing lanes are going to help cut accidents down," says Kidd.

Better highway signage is also needed to promote regional tourist attractions.

The northeastern chamber wants a meeting with Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield and senior bureaucrats to "refocus" their Northern Highways Program.

A letter has been drafted to Cansfield requesting both Queen's Park and Ottawa develop an action plan to improve motorist safety with more passing lanes.

A new passing lane on Highway 11 is under construction on a 15-kilometre stretch east of Kapuskasing to the village of Moonbeam.

It's part of the provincial Liberals' commitment to spend $1.8 billion on Northern highways, the largest project being the four-laning of Highway 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound.

At least one Northern MPP in government wants Ottawa to pay its fair share for a modern Trans-Canada highway across Northern Ontario.

Last October, David Orazietti introduced a private members bill in the Ontario Legislature asking Ottawa to "live up to their historic commitments" by sharing 50 per cent of the construction costs for national highway reconstruction, rather than its current seven per cent.

His bill seeks a 50/50 cost-sharing agreement as mandated under the 1949 Trans-Canada Highway Act.

Orazietti said last fall his "vision for the North" is a modernized Trans-Canada Highway, with additional passing lanes, paved shoulders, rumble strips, rest stops, and ultimately a four-lane divided highway.


He's gathered endorsements for his bill from the Ontario Provincial Police Association, Canadian Automobile Association, the Ontario Trucking Association, Ontario Road Builders Association and the Ontario Safety League.

Kidd says the revitalized chamber is "gathering steam" in presenting a "united front" in lobbying for regional issues in learning to put parochial differences aside.

During its annual general meeting held in North Bay last November, the NOCC signed an agreement with the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce to work together on issues of "greater good" to improve Northern Ontario.

Some upcoming items NOCC will tackle in 2007 are the difficulties faced by businesses with the Retail Sales Tax (RST) in granting exemptions to Aboriginal customers as well as Northern Ontario being identified as a growth zone in the Ontario government's Places to Grow Act.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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