Commute times in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH)1 are getting longer and many highways are now experiencing congestion outside of the morning and afternoon rush hour periods. With the region’s population expected to grow by more than 3.8 million people in the next 25 years, there will be increased pressure on our highways to move goods and people. Traffic congestion is an issue that must be dealt with.
The Province of Ontario has a plan that will ease congestion as the Greater Golden Horseshoe continues to grow. This is essential as we work to build stronger, more prosperous communities. We are asking members of the public to provide comments on the plan.
It is not possible to build our way out of congestion. We must make the best possible use of our highways. Giving people better alternatives to driving alone is one of the most effective ways to tackle congestion now and to provide a transportation system that is more sustainable in the future.
The Province has drafted a plan to manage traffic congestion on our highways in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by adding high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to many of our highways to get people and goods to their destinations safely and in less time.
HOV lanes mean:
HOV lanes support both carpooling and municipal and cross-regional transit such as GO Transit, since all buses can use HOV lanes. HOV lanes can provide a congestion-free bus route, allowing operators to provide faster, more reliable service.
As we look at managing congestion and reducing the impact of our transportation system on the environment, one important action we can take is to reduce the number of vehicles that are on our roads. HOV lanes are an effective way to encourage people to choose a more efficient way of traveling, such as carpooling or taking transit.
The Province has drafted an ambitious plan to add over 450 kilometres of new HOV lanes on 400-series highways in the Greater Golden Horseshoe – including some of the most heavily-congested highways in the province - over the next 25 years.
The HOV lane network will allow more efficient travel for all vehicles on congested highways in our major urban areas. As more people choose alternatives to driving alone, congestion will be better managed and the province’s investments in transportation infrastructure will be maximized. HOV lanes will help to ease congestion now and will accommodate increased demand on our highways in the future.
One of the keys to managing congestion is using highways as efficiently as possible. The Province is taking steps to encourage public transit use and carpooling, both of which move substantially more people per vehicle than single-occupant vehicles. These are effective ways to ease congestion, particularly during peak traffic periods.
HOV lanes are a long-term, sustainable approach to addressing congestion. Adding more general purpose lanes to our highways would relieve congestion for a period of time, but widening with an HOV lane has the potential to relieve congestion much longer into the future. HOV lanes also have the benefit of giving priority to transit vehicles.
HOV lanes will improve highway efficiency by:
HOV lanes are part of a sustainable transportation plan that will connect public transit service to growing communities, support the movement of goods through the Greater Golden Horseshoe and to our borders, protect natural resources, maintain road safety and contribute to energy conservation.
The Ontario government’s investments are building a balanced and effective transportation system. By creating more efficient highway and public transit systems, we are contributing to a prosperous economy and vibrant communities.
To plan the future HOV lane network, MTO assessed the potential travel demand for HOV lanes on each 400-series highway in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Projected travel demand was based on forecasts of future population, employment and land use.
Several criteria were used to select the HOV lanes identified in this plan. All the HOV lane locations have the potential to achieve a minimum volume of 500 high occupancy vehicles in the lanes during the peak morning and afternoon commuting hours. This number is a standard target used in other North American jurisdictions for HOV lane planning. HOV lane use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe is expected to exceed the minimum lane volume. Other factors used to select HOV lane locations and the timeframes for constructing them include their potential for use by transit vehicles and the opportunity to build HOV lanes in conjunction with other highway projects.
The following maps illustrate how the HOV lane network could be created in phases.
Figure 1 shows the existing HOV lanes on Highways 403 and 404 and the next additions to the network in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Funding for these projects has been confirmed, and these projects are identified in the Province’s Southern Ontario Highways Program. These projects include the HOV lanes currently under construction on northbound Highway 404. The HOV lanes on Highway 400 are currently being designed and construction will begin in 2008. On the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), construction is already underway to widen bridges in preparation for the addition of HOV lanes. MTO will also study how to include HOV lanes on Highway 427 and will consider transit options.
Figure 2 proposes a vision for “growing the corridors” by building on existing HOV lanes. This involves extending the HOV lanes on Highways 400 and 404 farther north and adding lanes to other key sections such as Highway 401 in Peel Region.
Figure 3 shows the proposed strategy for “creating the network”. This longer-term vision includes adding HOV lanes on other important highway corridors. Most importantly, it provides opportunities to connect these new lanes with those already constructed, to form an integrated network of HOV lanes across the region. An efficiently connected network will provide fast and reliable travel for carpools and transit vehicles.
This plan represents a vision for establishing a full network of HOV lanes in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by 2031. This extensive network of HOV lanes would provide a tremendous incentive for commuters to carpool or take transit. Constructing this network by 2031 will require funding beyond the amount typically budgeted for highway construction in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Most of the HOV lanes shown in the plan will involve constructing new highway lanes. However, space constraints in some areas will present a challenge, including sections of Highways 400, 401 and 427 and the QEW that pass through heavily urbanized areas. Over the long term, once the HOV lane network is more fully developed, MTO will study the possibility of converting existing lanes in these areas to HOV lanes. Conversion in these areas will be considered when there is high demand for HOV lanes and/or when the converted lane would link two other HOV lanes together or would extend an HOV lane. Before any conversion is done, however, the effects on safety, goods movement and cost must be carefully examined.
Precise timing of the opening of the HOV lane corridors listed in the plan will depend on a number of factors, including:
The Province will consult with municipalities, transit providers and the general public throughout planning and environmental studies for each HOV lane project. The ministry will also work with the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, as this plan offers a network that will support regional transit service and the development of a regional transportation plan in the GTA.
In developing a network, MTO will plan for and identify opportunities to include important features to make it easier for carpoolers and transit operators to use HOV lanes, including:
Figure 1. Near-term HOV Lane Projects (2007-2011)
Figure 2. Growing the Corridors: Medium-Term HOV Lane Priorities (2011-2016)
Figure 3. Creating the Network: Longer-Term HOV Additions (2017+)