20-year plan would reinvent Hwy. 401/8 interchange
Proposed traffic improvements would address industrial growth
January 31, 2008 | KEVIN SWAYZE, RECORD STAFF
Work starts next month on a study to transform Highway 8 and Highway 401 around the Toyota car assembly plant over the next two decades.
Provincial transportation officials intend to hire a consultant to investigate and propose:
- improvements to the Highway 8/Sportsworld/Maple Grove interchange at the Cambridge-Kitchener boundary
- improvements to the Highway 8 interchange with Highway 401 at the Cambridge-Kitchener border
- adding another interchange to Highway 401 in the area of Speedsville Road in Cambridge.
The environmental assessment study would include a session to gather public comment.
Recommendations are expected by March, 2009.
For Cambridge planning commissioner Janet Babcock, there is an obvious need to improve traffic flow in and around Highways 8 and 401. That's where industrial growth is going in Cambridge, with another city industrial park expected to open this year, on Boxwood Drive beside Toyota.
"They're probably trying to look at some kind of rationalization of all the traffic infrastructure," she said of the provincial study.
Babcock wouldn't be surprised to see a plan that proposes a big flyover bridge to take traffic from Highway 8 southbound to Highway 401 westbound, giving Toyota better truck access to its new plant in Woodstock. The structure might look like the one that now carries Highway 8 traffic directly to the eastbound 401, she said.
Today, trucks in the Cambridge business park around Toyota take Maple Grove Road to Sportsworld Drive to King Street before entering the 401.
"Certainly, anything is going to be an improvement going west, from what we have now," said Eugene Moser, president of Challenger Motor Freight.
The company's headquarters and main terminal are about a kilometre east of the Sportsworld/Maple Grove/Highway 8 interchange.
"This is just a temporary solution right now, going and turning left on King," Moser said. "I don't think anybody ever thought that would be the ultimate solution."
Waterloo Region and provincial roads officials first met to discuss traffic troubles in the Highway 8/Sportsworld area in 2006. Businesses in the Cambridge Business Park want better access to the 401.
Graham Vincent, director of transportation planning with the region, wouldn't speculate about what changes the study might spawn to improve traffic flow in north Cambridge.
Babcock only learned of the provincial highway study when the Transportation Ministry objected to a housing subdivision plan along Limerick Road, south of the 401/8 interchange.
Ministry officials want to meet with their city and Waterloo Region counterparts in the next month or so to talk about the new highway study and how to allow the subdivision to proceed.
Babcock is anxious for the meeting, because major road changes might force the city to change how it plans growth along and north of Highway 401. The city's official plan review is underway and must take such potential road changes into consideration.
Already, city staff have delayed plans to repair bridges carrying Speedsville Road over the Speed River, from this year to 2010, because of the interchange study nearby on the 401.
The ministry also wants 2.1 hectares of the former Sportsworld property in Kitchener "protected for future interchange improvements" as part of widening plans underway along Highway 8 south, out of Kitchener.
Babcock wants to find out how the highway access study fits into other provincial road plans and studies.
She sees how the new study could knit separate highways together to better serve the district:
Plans to widen Highway 401 to 10 lanes through are already well advanced
Construction of a new Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph has been approved
A new Highway 24 route, linking Cambridge and Brantford, is under study
"When you start putting together the parts . . . there's a lot of work that being planned for this region," Babcock said.
Planners rule out adding Highway 401 interchange at Speedsville Road
February 24, 2009 | Jeff Outhit, RECORD STAFF | http://news.therecord.com/article/493025
Highway planners have ruled out adding a Highway 401 interchange at Speedsville Road.
Such an interchange would damage Speed River wetlands, compromise traffic safety and worsen congestion, they contend.
"It would be a hindrance, adding an interchange at Speedsville," said Scott Howard, project manager for the Ministry of Transportation.
Instead, the ministry proposes better connections between Highway 401 and Highway 8, at an undefined cost exceeding $100 million. This proposal includes:
Two highway-to-highway ramps that would soar above a
reconfigured interchange at King Street.
A reconfigured interchange at Sportsworld Drive and Highway 8.
The proposal released yesterday is intended to improve Highway 401 access in south Kitchener and Cambridge. It has no launch date and is not among projects the province plans to construct within five years.
The rejection of an interchange at Speedsville Road was both panned and praised by residents at a public information centre.
"I think they should have had one 20 years ago," Jim Cassel said. "It's the industrial basin of the city."
Steve Halicki also feels Speedsville Road needs an interchange. "They've done this in Toronto," he said. "Why could they do it in Toronto but they can't do it here?"
Mike Dearden and Larry Johnston say Speedsville is the wrong place for another interchange. "It's too tight between Highway 24 and Highway 8 to put in another full
interchange," Dearden said.
"I fully understand the mess it would create on the 401," Johnston said.
Planners say Speedsville Road will get a new bridge over the 401 but not an interchange. They contend an interchange would:
Impact Speed River wetlands.
Increase traffic on Speedsville and Royal Oak roads.
This is because, in a short space heading up a steep hill, vehicles entering the 401 from Speedsville would have to weave against vehicles exiting the 401 at Highway 8.
Planners say this would "create conflicts, congestion and compromise traffic safety." In peak hours they predict westbound traffic would back up almost to Hespeler Road.
The ministry proposes instead to construct more flyover ramps where Highway 401 meets Highway 8.
Motorists heading out of Kitchener on Highway 8 would take a new flyover to go west on Highway 401. This would get them off King Street.
Motorists heading eastbound on Highway 401 would take a new flyover to enter Kitchener on Highway 8. This would get them off King Street. Interchanges at Sportsworld Drive and at King Street would be reconfigured to improve traffic flow.
This would consume nine hectares, disrupting a corner of the Sportsworld Crossing shopping plaza in Kitchener and part of a proposed Limerick Drive subdivision in Cambridge.
Affected developers are aware of highway plans.
HIGHWAY 8 AND HIGHWAY 401 INTERCHANGE IMPROVEMENTS
DATE: March 31, 2009
THAT the Regional Municipality of Waterloo request the Ministry of Transportation to consider the recommendations contained in Report P-09-032, dated March 31, 2009, relating to the Class Environmental Assessment for the Highway 8 and Highway 401 Interchange, including:
a) The Ministry of Transportation work with the Region through the Regional Transportation Master Plan process to consider establishing an additional interchange to Highway 401;
b) Transit priority measures, such as queue jump lanes and signal priority, be recognized in the Transportation Environmental Study Report and included in the detailed design of the Highway 8 and Sportsworld Drive interchange to assist transit operations;
c) Pedestrian improvements around the Highway 8 and Sportsworld Drive interchange be recognized in the Transportation Environmental Study Report and incorporated into the detailed design of the interchange in order to support planned public transit infrastructure; and
d) The Ministry of Transportation recognize the need for bus bypass shoulder lanes along Highway 8 and Highway 401 within the study area in the Transportation Environmental Study Report, and work with the Region to explore the feasibility of these lanes during detailed design.
Proposed highway interchange
Ray Martin, Times Staff
Oct 21, 2009 - 3:54 PM
Cambridge residents have until the end of the month to make final comments on a plan that will overhaul the Highway 401/8 interchange.
Over the last year, Ministry of Transportation officials have been working with consultants, city and regional staff on the environmental assessment (EA) study for the stretch of Highway 401 between the Speed and Grand rivers, and up Highway 8 to the interchange at Sportsworld Drive.
The recently completed study is the latest step towards revamping and upgrading the interchange to meet the growing volume of traffic heading into and out of Kitchener through Cambridge.
MTO public relations spokesperson Christina Martin told the Times the ongoing widening of Highway 8 north, off Sportsworld Drive, “was taken into account in the Highway 8/Highway 401 interchange improvement study”, however, “further EA work will be required as part of the future design process and before any construction could occur” at the Highway 401/8 interchange.
“These improvements are not part of the southern highways program, the ministry’s five-year construction program,” she said.
Working from east to west, the plan proposes to extend the existing bridge over Highway 401 at Speedsville Road and replace the Fountain Street bridge. A three-metre sound barrier would be installed from the Fountain Street bridge on the south side to the end of the eastbound on-ramp at the top of Shantz Hill Road. The Highway 401 off-ramp onto old King Street would also be reworked and a stoplight would be erected at the foot of the ramp.
Meanwhile, the Highway 401 off-ramp would be extended west across the Grand River on a new bridge. Along that new off-ramp, planners have designed another ramp leading to a two-lane flyover, which will allow eastbound traffic to pass over Highway 401 and onto the northbound Highway 8 near Sportsworld Drive.
At Sportsworld Drive, MTO officials are proposing to revamp the interchange, widening the bridge to accommodate more lanes of traffic and designing a new off-ramp for northbound traffic. They would also widen the Highway 401 overpass at King Street.
For southbound traffic heading to London off Highway 8, the MTO plan proposes a new two-lane ramp and a bridge crossing old King Street to Highway 401.
Also being proposed is high-mast lighting to better illuminate the interchange. Highway 8, between Sportsworld Drive and Highway 401, will be widened to six lanes, while Highway 401 is widened to eight lanes.
Currently, 95,000 vehicles annually use Highway 8 and that volume is anticipated to increase to 115,000 by 2021. Meanwhile, traffic volumes on Highway 401 at the interchange will increase from 130,000 vehicles annually to 175,000 by 2021.
At this point, no funding has been allocated to the project.
For comments or questions about the study, contact project manager Scott Howard at the Ministry of Transportation, 659 Exeter Rd., London, Ont., N6E 1L3, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-800-265-6072, or consultant project manager Gregg Cooke a Stantec Consulting Ltd. 1400 Rymal Rd. E., Hamilton, ON, L8W 3N9, email@example.com, or call collect 1-905-385-3234.
All comments must be received prior to Oct. 30.
I don't know if this project will go on or not but it will clear up much traffic on that section of King Street which would end all of the nightmares about getting on and off highway 401 and highway 8. I can see one issue with this, and that is that companies will start losing business which would be disastrous. Not as many cars would be going down that section of King anymore (I pretty much only go down there to get onto the 401).
"Only the insane have the strength enough to prosper. Only those that prosper may truly judge what is sane."
The non-local traffic levels on King are insane. Traffic flow to businesses on King would improve considerably once the through traffic is removed; it will be easier to turn in and out of driveways.
I would have to agree with this possible interchange at Speedville. It's infuriating to drive down the 401 in the morning from Cambridge and discover it backed up all the way to Hespeler Road from Hwy. 8. Even if you do manage to cut off on Hespeler Road before the backup, you still need to backtrack all the way down to Maple Grove just to get to those back roads. (Fountain St -> Waterloo)
These days I don't even bother taking the 401->Hwy.8 to get to work, it's just way too unpredictable. Which angers me even further that people talk about the fact that our current road system is adequate. It's quite obvious that these people don't have to commute from Cambridge to K-W.
I think the Speedsville interchange has been nixed permanently.
"Only the insane have the strength enough to prosper. Only those that prosper may truly judge what is sane."
I'm looking at the pictures and don't understand why there will be a tunnel
So drivers from the Eastbound 401 getting off at Sportsworld can merge in the right place. If they merge into the left lanes, they will have to cut across two or three more lanes of traffic so they can get off--very important for the Toyota-bound.
And push it onto the already choked local roads? No thank you.
They were going to extend Highway 8 into Cambridge but dropped the plan because it would have taken up vulnerable wetlands in the Cruickston Park area of Blair--losing that is the last thing Cambridge needs.
"Only the insane have the strength enough to prosper. Only those that prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Living in London, improving this interchange will be a significant asset for those who want to access Highway 401 Westbound and Highway 8 Northbound! In the current setup, you have to navigate a tight, heavily used loop ramp on to King street and pass through a handful of intersections before you reach the bypass. Traffic usage definitely warrants a 3-way controlled-access interchange here. Glad to see the MTO is going to tackle this needed upgrade.
Cambridge stretch of Highway 401 turns 50
Within minutes of the opening ceremony, motorists began pouring onto the new Highway 401.
The Highway 401 interchange with Highway 24 under construction in 1960. Hespeler is to the top right corner. Cambridge's Wal-Mart power centre would be to the bottom right today. Top of photo is north.
Highway 401 crosses left to right at the top of Shantz Hill Road in this 1964 photo. Kitchener is to the top of the photo.
The 401 interchange at Hespeler Road in Cambridge today.
Highway 401 interchange at Shantz Hill Road in Cambridge.
It will be 50 years ago next Wednesday that Waterloo Region crowned the car its king.
On Nov. 17, 1960, the four-lane Highway 401 to Highway 8 at Preston was officially opened, connecting what was then Waterloo County with Toronto.
It was this area’s economic anchor in a postwar boom that could easily have passed us by, said economist Larry Smith at the University of Waterloo.
“It’s our version of the Mississippi River, or the Ottawa River ... It’s a river of commerce,” he said.
“The truth is, the 401 is the backbone of commerce in southern Ontario.”
Jim Cassel was 19 years old as he helped blaze a trail across Waterloo Township for the “big, bold highway heading in from the east.”
In 1958 and 1959, he was a “chain man” on a provincial survey crew taking detailed measurements along the expropriated strip of farmland between Highway 25 in Milton and Highway 8 at the top of Preston. Some areas had to be dug down, others filled up, to create a level path for the asphalt.
“There were no dips or curves or wiggles. It went across the countryside,” Cassel said.
“It was called progress.”
It wasn’t easy stomping across country in all weathers, keeping ahead of the power shovels.
“We used to have to chop through ice on the Speed River. People talk about the winters being colder then, and they’re right.” He holds his hands 30 centimetres apart for emphasis: “It was like going through concrete.”
Dad’s Restaurant on Guelph Line was contracted to feed the work crews as the highway grew.
“They’d put a pound of butter on each table for four men. They’d bring in roasts of beef and turkeys and great big baskets of hot, freshly baked loaves of bread.”
He also remembers paydays at the work camp on Guelph line were like the Wild West. “As soon as the cheques were cashed, the dice came out,” Cassel said. “They’d lose two weeks’ pay in one whip of the dice.”
Then loan sharks would step in, offering cash at 20 per cent interest so empty-handed gamblers had money to send home to their families.
Cassel said highway engineers at the time lamented how the budget limited their dream: they wanted the asphalt wider than four lanes from the start.
“We’ve always been behind instead of ahead of it ... It should have been built then like it was today.”
Today, Highway 401 through Waterloo Region is six lanes wide. Plans are in the works for more widening to 10 lanes between Highway 8 and Townline Road in Cambridge.
*•* *•* *•*
Picking a route for Highway 401 stirred up long-simmering, north-south tensions in Waterloo County — tensions that echo today.
In the early 1950s, the province mulled the route for the new east-west freeway that would link with the pre-war Queen Elizabeth Way between Toronto and Niagara Falls. The Kitchener-Waterloo Suburban Roads Commission recommended the new highway swing north of Hespeler, cross the Grand River at Freeport — three kilometres north of where it is now — then curve south again between Woodstock and Stratford.
“People in Galt, Preston, and Hespeler got wind of it,” said Bill Thomson, Kitchener’s planning director in the 1960s. “They created a plan showing it down to the south, through the (Galt Country Club) golf course.”
Queen’s Park played Solomon to silence the parochialism.
“As far I could conclude, the province figured they’d go halfway in between,” Thomson said.
The province announced that at the same time, it would widen Highway 8 to four lanes north from the Shantz Hill Road interchange at Preston, then build a new section over the Grand River ending at Fairway Road on the south Kitchener boundary.
Thomson remembers convincing Waterloo and Kitchener city engineers to look at connecting that road to an upgraded King Street and hooking it to what would become the Conestoga Parkway curving through the two cities.
“The Conestoga Parkway, joining with the 401, gave us both a gateway to the 401 and the province. It opened up our business parks.”
The Highway 401 interchange at Homer Watson Boulevard turned south Kitchener into a huge industrial basin, Thomson said.
The same thing happened in Cambridge, as two-lane Highway 24 through farm fields grew into today’s six-lane Hespeler Road chock-a-block with big-box stores and shopping plazas. It’s now the city’s shopping heartland.
To the east, industry filled up vacant land near the south — and later, north — sides of Highway 401. By the early ’80s, tracts of housing started covered the rolling countryside along what was once the gravel Back Hespeler Road. Today it’s the busy four-lane Franklin Boulevard that many drivers try to avoid at rush hour.
*•* *•* *•*
Jean Stahlbaum remembers walking from Hespeler to Puslinch Lake in the summer of 1960 along the gravel route of the unfinished highway. Sixteen years old, she worked at the hamburger stand at the popular Barber’s Beach summer resort on the lake’s shore.
It was also the place where the dance hall was converted into a dormitory for young, single men working on the highway. The pavilion is long gone, but there’s still a trailer park on Winston Boulevard in old Hespeler, created to house families of married workers, Stahlbaum said.
Gravel for the highway was extracted from pits dug near the lake, which are today preserved as natural areas where visitors have trouble hearing birdsong for all the trucks roaring by on the nearby 401.
Highway construction released hundreds of tons of dirt and silt that strangled Mill Creek flowing south to Cambridge. For the last 20 years, the Grand River Conservation Authority has sent summer student work crews in to revive the abused waterway.
The 401 brought jobs, industry and a population boom to Hespeler. Downtown was hopping in the 1960s — and only started to fade in the early 1970s when local governments were amalgamated, Stahlbaum said.
The Hespeler native remembers the hope that the asphalt barrier would save the independent town from being swallowed up. Queen’s Park ordered Hespeler to join with Galt and Preston to form Cambridge on Jan. 1, 1973.
“It didn’t stop Cambridge from becoming Cambridge,” she said. “They came across the border.”
*•* *•* *•*
Highway 401 changed the mindsets of local companies and workers while stoking five decades of car-related growth.
No longer did workers have to live within walking distance of a factory, or streetcar or bus route. They could live in one city and work in another. Highways like the 401 accelerated the growth of the suburban dream — which today the provincial government struggles to contain with rules pushing new housing back into stagnant downtowns.
As workers moved, so did their workplaces. Big, downtown factories served by railway tracks moved to sprawling industrial parks on cheaper land along Highway 401, upsetting a century of urban economic stability. As the auto industry grew, parts suppliers and factories — like the 4,000-worker Toyota factory in Cambridge — picked prime spots along the 401.
In 1960, the population of Waterloo County was 176,754. Today, there are 503,000 people in the region — almost three times as many.
Fifty years ago, the number of workers in the county was 72,675. Today, the labour force is 257,655 — 3.5 times larger.
Without Highway 401 linking southern Ontario to the U.S. heartland, economist Smith said “we would be just like the rust belt of America.”
The comparison is as close as Buffalo, a major industrial city by the early 1900s with an economy built on Great Lakes shipping. As the economy shifted away from ships to trains and then to trucks on highways, Buffalo withered.
In contrast, Toronto — another city built on shipping — thrives today because it’s the fulcrum of commerce along Highway 401, Smith said.
Waterloo Region came along for the ride, since it’s only — on a good day — a 45-minute drive from Toronto. Or three hours from the Windsor border crossing.
The 401 brought problems too: suburban sprawl, pollution, downtown economic decline and a harried, stress-filled lifestyle for many a family with jobs in one city and home in another.
“The stupid road is sitting on some of the finest farmland in Ontario … If we could only have put it across all the rocks up north,” Smith added.
Economies have always been shaped by the technologies of the time, Smith said. All progress brings challenges.
“Last time I looked, prosperity is not free,” he said. “I would rather deal with the problems of prosperity than the problems of poverty.”
While Smith expects the 401“has plenty of life in it yet,” its future will be shaped by technology we’re only now starting to understand.
How will expansion of the internet change the need for people to travel hours a day to work — could most people “telework” from their homes?
What if energy prices spike, as some futurists predict, forcing people to travel less by car?
Or the tide could flow the other way, Smith said.
Driverless cars are in development — and already in road tests by technology heavyweight Google. Instead of working from home to avoid wasted time in gridlock, they might continue meeting the boss face to face while living hundreds of stress-free kilometres apart along a busier — but computer- managed — Highway 401.
Smith said he’d visit his cottage in eastern Ontario every weekend if he only needed to step into his car, press the go button and sleep until delivered to its door.
“Which (future) will win out? I don’t know. Partly it’s technology, partly it’s human nature.”
I wish 401/8 still had one; would make getting off the westbound to go towards Cambridge much easier. Now you have to sit in line until the traffic opens up (if ever). It's easier to go to Homer Watson!
I am curious if there has been an update to this. Being new to the region, I am amazed with the current setup of this interchange. I will spare you the cliche's.
It seems that since the original postings, we are getting beyond 5 years. If it was not in the 5 year plan in 08 how about 13?
I haven't seen it discussed yet, but I'm curious about what other people think about the 401 West to Hwy 8 West interchange. I commute between my home in Kitchener and office in Cambridge daily; and, like others, I rarely take Hwy 8/401 anymore because during rush hour it's so unpredictable (and often faster to take city streets).
With regard to the ramp, I see the same pattern every day coming home (from Cambridge to Kitchener) - just before the bottom of the hill (heading West on 401), traffic slows from 100+ km/h to somewhere around 50 km/h - as everyone from the middle and left lane try to squish into the right lane, in anticipation of exiting onto 8. At the top of the hill, the speed climbs back up to 100+ km/h as a lane is gained, going back to 2 full lanes on Hwy 8.
If you could convince everyone in the right lane to shift one to the right at the top of the hill, and people in the middle lane to shift into the right lane (and exit right at the split that lane makes), it could flow perfectly - but that'll never happen, since emotionally people who have "reserved" their spot in the right lane will often floor it once the people in front of them exit right, to block anyone from the middle 401 lane from coming over and exiting.
I think about it often, what the solution here is - it's dynamite on paper as it currently is, but throw in the human factor and anxiety about being blocked out of exiting, and the whole capacity of those 2 lanes on 8 temporarily goes down to 1 lane for a few hundred metres on 401 before the exit. Adding a 4th lane on the right, and making it exit-only much further down the hill might be a solution... or it might just move the exact same problem a few hundred metres upstream. I don't know.
Guarenteed though it's that blockup that dominoes further back down 401 all the way through Cambridge, every single day.