Ontario's transportation minister announced on Friday three pilot projects that will see speed limits on provincial highways in southern Ontario increase to 110 km/h, a move that has drawn both applause and concern from experts.
The announcement was made by Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek near Hwy. 402 and Longwoods Road, in a carpool lot, as cars and trucks whizzed nearby.
"Safety is the government's No.1 priority and each pilot location was carefully chosen based on a number of factors, including its ability to accommodate higher speed limits," said Yurek
The move is a change from the policy of the previous provincial government, which in 2012 rejected a campaign to raise speed limits to 120 or 130 km/h. At the time, then-transportation minister Bob Chiarelli said he made the call because speed is a factor in 20 per cent of fatal crashes in Ontario.
At the roadside announcement, concerns around safety were answered with a promise to improve signage and messaging on highways.
Yurek wants street-racing penalties to still apply to drivers caught doing 150 km/h or more, pending an amendment to legislation.
Right now, the 400-series highways, including Hwy. 401, 402, 403 and 417, as well as the Queen Elizabeth Way, have posted limits of 100 km/h. Other provincial highways range between 80 and 90 km/h.
Speed limits haven't been reviewed in the province since the 1970s. They used to be about 110 km/h but were lowered in 1975 because of the oil crisis.
Yurek points out six other provinces in Canada that have posted speed limits of 110 km/h on certain highways.
In 2014, British Columbia increased speed limits to 120 km/h in some parts of the province, but has since rolled back those increases because of an alarming increase in serious collisions.
"Most research shows that if you are involved within a collision and you are driving more than 120 km/h, your chances to survive are almost zero," Mohamed Hussein, a transportation engineering professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, told CBC News earlier this week.
However, other experts argue that 110 km/h is already the speed most cars travel on 400-series highways, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.
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The Ford government is raising speed limits on three sections of 400-series highways in the province to 110 km/h starting this September as a test measure.
Starting Sept. 16, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek says speed limits on Highway 402 between London and Sarnia, the QEW between St. Catharines and Hamilton and Highway 417 between eastern Ottawa and the Quebec border will have a posted limit of 110 km/h.
Traffic might be a little bit faster than what it is now, but pretty much I think it will match what goes on today, Yurek said of the projects impact.
Each of these highways were chosen because theres little change that needs to be done to them, their interchanges are properly spaced (apart).
They will also possibly test the 110 km/h limit on a stretch of a northern Ontario highway as well, but the details are still being finalized.
Yurek says the government will launch consultations with all highway users including the trucking industry, law enforcement and other partners, regarding speed limits and other matters regarding road transportation.
He stressed that the street racing penalty will remain at 150 km/h and not increase in lockstep with the speed limit increase.
The provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan all have highway speed limits of 110 or 120 km/h.
Were just meeting what at least 85 per cent of the road users are already at, Yurek said, conceding most drivers exceed the existing 100 km/h speed limit on 400-series highways on a regular basis.
Yurek said that no GTA-area highway was included in the pilot as the ministry is focused on other measures, especially expanding the GO network, as a means to improve traffic in the region.
OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said police dont make the rules, but they remain concerned about the prevalence of speeding.
That is what the Minister of Transportation has deemed to be appropriate and the OPP are here to enforce the rules of the road. If theyre increasing the speed limits we are here to enforce those limits as they are stated, he told CP24. I know speeding is the leading cause of death or injuries. Its the number one killer on our highways right now.