Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Closing of roads: cities want to have their say

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Highway 11 is a main artery for transporting goods and materials between eastern and western Canada. When the road is closed in an emergency, queues of tens of kilometers can cause problems for communities in Northern Ontario. (Archive photo)

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Municipalities in Northeastern Ontario want to update procedures during emergency road closures, due to road accidents or bad weather conditions, because they have a significant impact on communities, especially when ;they last a long time.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the Ontario Provincial Police have sole authority to close a road, and have no obligation to consult surrounding communities.

On the other hand, for the municipalities on Route 11, the consequences of these road closures are felt in several ways.

Truck drivers have no other options than to wait for the road to reopen, which can lead to major traffic jams in the villages.

For Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin, this situation constitutes a crisis, as a road closure brings a lot of trucks to town.

West of Hearst, it's two and a half hours before arrive at Greenstone. There is nothing, no gas, no cell signal.

A quote from Roger Sigouin, mayor of Hearst

Often, these trucks can even block the path to the hospital.

In addition, road closures can last several hours or even days , which can complicate the already dangerous work of truckers.

This issue has been on the agenda of the Association of Municipalities of Northeastern Ontario (AMNEO) for years.

This association, which represents the interests of the communities of the Route 11 corridor, organized a meeting last week with the Ministry of Transport and the OPP, to continue reflection on road closures and their impact on municipalities.

Peter Politis, Mayor of Cochrane and President of AMNEO, says these discussions have been productive. We all work for the same people and we will solve this problem together.

If this initial consultation has not produced any tangible results or concrete measures to put in place, the message from AMNEO was clear: municipalities do not participate enough in the decision-making process when the OPP closes a road.

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Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis (Photo archives)

We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, emphasizes Mr. Politis. Ultimately, there is already a robust process for emergency management, there is a dedicated department and the people involved know how to do their job very well.

It makes no sense that we don't use this same process, the one we already know.

A quote from Peter Politis, Mayor of Cochrane and President of AMNEO

The Mayor of Cochrane adds that he is not pointing the finger at the professionals who handle emergency situations, such as a wildfire or a flood, but he would simply like to have access to that expertise when it comes to road closures .

For Roger Sigouin, the situation goes beyond his city.

He is sorry for all the truckers who are forced to wait several hours before being able to get back on the road.

Several possible solutions, such as the creation of better rest and parking spaces for truckers, are possible, according to the mayor.

We want to be able to provide a service to [these people] who are stuck in their truck for a day, two days, sometimes even three days, he says, adding that truckers who are not well enough rested often end up being the cause of accidents.

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The mayor of Hearst, Roger Sigouin (Archive photo )

But Roger Sigouin maintains that the first step, the most important, is to have the collaboration of other levels of government in this matter.

I think the OPP is doing everything possible, the MTO is doing everything possible to make it work, but it Ultimately, the solution is for the province to get on board.

A quote from Roger Sigouin, mayor of Hearst

Same speech from Peter Politis, who is optimistic following this first meeting between all the parties concerned.

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I don't know if I can say that we agree on all the details, he explains, but I believe that everyone understands that a better solution is possible, and we are trying to ;move forward together now.

Discussions started last week about the impact of emergency closures represent just the tip of the iceberg in the case.

The issue of road safety remains a priority for the region, while winter is only just beginning.

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