London News & Search
The mother of all London road projects is quietly moving ahead behind the scenes, with the city prepping for what could become one of the largest such undertakings in its history — widening, by half, an already headache-inducing, critical west-side corridor.
Choked by up to 43,000 vehicles daily in some area, Wonderland Road between Sarnia and Southdale roads is on the city’s radar for expansion.
If it goes ahead, it would transform the eight-kilometre run of Wonderland, a major north-south link, from a four-lane road to a six-lane mini-freeway.
Construction is still a long way off, but residents — even at this early stage — seem divided.
Some say the project is long overdue in a growing city. Others fret about the fallout, including on parkland bisected by the road.
One city councillor says her west-end ward has a nickname for the often-congested road.
“It’s consistently described to me as the Wonderland Road parking lot,” said Coun. Virginia Ridley.
“Traffic certainly can get snarled going north or southbound, depending on the time of day.”
While it would likely be a decade or more before a green-lighted Wonderland expansion could be completed, the city is laying the groundwork now, tapping public feedback as part of an environmental assessment.
The broad strokes of the “Discover Wonderland” project include revamping the four-lane road to include six lanes, easing congestion on the north-south route.
It could take as many as four phases to tackle such a long stretch of Wonderland.
It’s early days, city bureaucrats caution. Still, the need is there.
“There is a lot of frustration with congestion on Wonderland Road. We’ve heard quite a few comments that it results in cut-through traffic in adjacent neighbourhoods,” said Doug MacRae, the city’s transportation planning and design manager.
Couple the traffic stress with growth in both the city’s northwest and southwest corners, some say, and there’s a strong case for a widened Wonderland.
What about the cost?
The widening is predicted to cost about $55 million, but MacRae stressed that’s an early estimate only.
What’s clear is that it could be the mother of all London road projects, one MacRae called “one of the most interesting and complex” in recent history.
THE TIME LINE
Preparation will take at least until 2020, likely running closer to 2022. Construction would take another five years after that.
The city wants to hear from residents and businesses along the corridor, sending out 19,000 public notices and holding two “pop-up” public sessions recently to gather feedback. More formal public consultation will follow in the fall.
Studies have already begun.
A recommendation could come by the end of 2018, MacRae said, depending on what the research and Londoners have to say.
For starters, eight kilometres is a long run of road. The construction could cause as much grief as Wonderland’s heavy volumes do now.
Then, there are barriers to contend with — the Thames River, now crossed on Wonderland by the Guy Lombardo Bridge, and two rail lines — the Canadian Pacific line, over which Wonderland extends with a bridge, and the Canadian National line beneath which the road passes.
“Those definitely add complications,” said MacRae.
But there’s some good news. The Guy Lombardo bridge might be able to handle six lanes of traffic if pedestrians and cyclists were moved across the Thames River in another way.
That’s exactly the kind of creative solution the city will be on the lookout for during initial studies and research, MacRae said.
ONE POLITICIAN’S TAKE
Virginia Ridley said she’s eager for residents to share their thoughts so the city can design the best future road.
“We’re also looking forward to that complete street model, where we’re going to have active cycling lanes, pedestrian walkways and the traffic lane(s),” Ridley said. “We need to get it right . . . so we’re not wasting a lot of money on a big project that’s not going to improve things.”
Terry Morton writes his suggestion for Wonderland Road on a post-it note at the city’s pop-up consultation session on Thursday, July 20, 2017 at Springbank Community Centre. (MEGAN STACEY, The London Free Press)
The widening can’t come soon enough for Terry Morton.
“(It should have been) two years ago, not 20 years down the road. I won’t be around then,” the London resident said.
“It should be a high priority.”
Morton sees Wonderland as the west-end equivalent of Highbury Avenue, where drivers now enjoy six-lane freedom.
Traffic snarls do much more than cause frustration, Morton said.
All that volume leads to pollution from idling cars and anxious drivers left tapping their toes.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” he said.
Darlene Goodine moved south along Wonderland two years ago to escape the concrete jungle that sprung up near her previous home near Wonderland and Oxford Street. She’s worried the widening will leave her fleeing the very same problem — the loss of green space.
“I’m not opposed to widening Wonderland Road, but I’m really concerned about Springbank Park,” Goodine said. “I wouldn’t want them to touch one tree, one blade of grass.”
And with a city on the verge of building a rapid transit system, why spend millions to pave the way for more vehicles? Goodine wonders.
“I would be trying to get people out of cars,” she said.
A SAFETY CONCERN
Judy James hopes the project might cut down on the collisions she sees through her window at Wonderland and Riverside Drive, an especially busy intersection especially during commuter hours.
“Lots of accidents there, I say one a week,” she said. “They’re happening all the time.”
The traffic is so intense — due to both heavy volume and aggressive drivers — that James fears for her safety on Wonderland, she said.
And her temper rises when emergency vehicles are forced to tackle the same congestion.
But James is also worried about what the widening might look like along narrower stretches of the road.
“The only way they can widen Wonderland where I live, it’s going to come right in my front door.”
London News & Search