Ontario government to introduce Swedish-style 2+1 highway to cottage country

Swedish Highway Photo Courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation

The Ministry of Transportation issued a request for proposals for a 2+1 highway pilot on Highway 11. But what exactly does that mean?

In May of 2018, Mark Wilson travelled to Sweden to examine the country’s highways. Not the most touristy attraction. But as it turns out, Sweden has developed a highway system, known as the 2+1 road design, that could benefit Northern Ontario.

“The purpose of the trip was to gain information to determine the feasibility of implementing 2+1 road profiles in Northeastern Ontario, particularly on the Trans-Canada, Highway 11,” Wilson, a member of Going the Extra Mile for Safety (GEMS), a road safety advocacy group in Northern Ontario, wrote in a report.

He spent five days driving 1,200 kilometres along 2+1 roads, capturing dashcam footage and photographic material. His conclusion: It’s a road design worth implementing in Ontario.

A 2+1 road is a three-lane highway with a centre passing lane that changes direction approximately every two to five kilometres. The oncoming lanes are separated from one another by a steel median. The design is intended for smaller highways that see fewer than 20,000 vehicles on the road each day.

Sweden introduced the design in the early 1990s as the country was experiencing high rates of traffic fatalities and serious injuries, particularly on its two-lane highways where head-on collisions were being caused by people trying to pass. The design was part of Sweden’s Vision Zero road safety program, which operated under the assumption that humans will make mistakes while driving, so the road systems need to be designed to mitigate human error.

At the time of Wilson’s visit, Sweden had built 3,000 kilometres of 2+1 roads and seen a 75 to 80 per cent drop in its road fatality rate.

GEMS, which was created in 2016, in cooperation with the Temiskaming Shores and Area Chamber of Commerce, has been lobbying the Ministry of Transportation for the last six years to introduce the 2+1 design on Highway 11, which begins in Toronto as Yonge Street, extending north through Muskoka, North Bay, and other sections of Ontario’s cottage country. The majority of Highway 11 between North Bay and Temiskaming Shores is an undivided, two-lane highway.

According to GEMS, there are eight road fatalities per 100,000 people each year in Northern Ontario. Whereas in Southern Ontario, that number sits at 3.6. By introducing 2+1 roads, GEMS aims to reduce the number of road fatalities along Highway 11.

The Ontario government has taken note of GEMS advocacy.

“This first-of-its-kind highway pilot in North America will keep people and goods moving safely across Northern Ontario,” said Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, in a statement. “This is a key next step to get shovels in the ground on critical infrastructure projects that will support a strong transportation network.”

The government has selected two sections of Highway 11 to pilot the 2+1 design, both between North Bay and Temiskaming Shores. The first is a 14-kilometre stretch from Sand Dam Road to Ellesmere Road, and the second is 16 kilometres from Highway 64 to Jumping Caribou Lake Road.

Ministry of Transportation
Photo Courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation

“The highway model is used in other jurisdictions around the world and is more cost-efficient than twinning a highway,” the government said. According to GEMS, a 2+1 highway is approximately 70 to 75 per cent cheaper to build than a divided, four-lane highway.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald voiced his support for the project, saying that the 2+1 design will make it safer for North Bay residents who drivein the winter.

The government’s call for proposals is open until December 2022. It will then announce the successful bidder in 2023. On the government’s bid submission site, the project completion date is set for May 16, 2025.

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