Creation of the long-awaited Morriston bypass was ready to move forward in 2019, considered a “high” priority by provincial transportation engineers and experts. Then politics came into play and construction was once again put on a back burner.
That’s the finding of the office of the auditor general of Ontario which highlighted the situation in a report released last fall, prompting township council to call on the provincial government to reinstate the bypass’ priority status and get shovels in the ground.
Township council recently passed a motion to “respectfully request” the government “return to evidence-based infrastructure funding decision-making model for major highway projects” and give “serious consideration” to going ahead with construction of the Morriston bypass and other deferred priority projects.
“The pressure on the area serviced by the anticipated Morriston bypass will exponentially grow. Any delays due to safety or congestion have an enormous impact on business operations, profitability and public safety,” states a letter from the township to provincial government officials.
“Providing a safe and reliable transportation system that connects people and products and large centres with small rural communities is one of the keys to supporting growth in the southwest.”
Under consideration since the mid-1990s, a bypass would see Hwy. 6 shifted to go around Morriston, which sits just south of Hwy. 401. If approved, a draft proposal released in 2021 for public feedback would see a new, four-lane Hwy. 6 created west of the existing alignment that goes from Maddaugh Road, on the border of Puslinch and Hamilton, to Hwy. 401.
As noted in the auditor general’s report, the bypass is considered a “high” priority project by the Ministry of Transportation’s technical and engineering staff, which awarded the project a prioritization score of 650 – seven of the listed government priorities had an average score of 468.
“Our audit concluded that the ministry did not consistently plan and prioritize highway projects effectively, based on provincial infrastructure needs,” states the audit report. “We found that, at the direction of the minister, the ministry recommended deferring highly-ranked highway expansion projects in favour of lower-ranked projects.”
The fact that ministry experts didn’t agree with the reprioritization wasn’t communicated to the committee responsible for reviewing and approving funding requests, the audit report notes.
Asked why the provincial government deprioritized the Morriston bypass in favour of projects with a lower score, Dakota Brasier, senior communications advisor to Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, didn’t directly answer.
Instead, she offered the following statement via email:
“We received a strong mandate from the people of Ontario to build.
“Since day one, our government was clear that we would fill the infrastructure gap we inherited from the Liberals. This includes building new highways.
“The Ministry of Transportation was clear in discussions with the auditor general that all the projects she identifies in her report as ‘deferred’ are in fact moving ahead, either through construction, planning or due diligence work.”
Though asked for a construction timeline for the bypass, Brasier didn't provide one.
In its letter to the province, Puslinch officials state more than half of the soybeans and 70 per cent of the wheat grown in Ontario is shipped via truck over the Hwy. 6 corridor through Morriston. That’s in addition to nearly half of all fertilizer used on Ontario farms.
“Understanding that there are competing demands for provincial funding of major highway expansion projects, the southwest has been waiting many years for the construction of the Morriston bypass,” the township’s letter explains. “We encourage serious consideration for the construction of the Morriston bypass and that all other deferred highway projects listed in the auditor general’s report proceed as initially planned.”
The auditor general’s report notes the bypass plan comes with a price tag between $500 million and $1 billion.