Recently the Ontario Ministry of Transportation announced that it would conduct a $40-million relocation of the infamous Montreal River hill. The hill, centrally located along Highway 17 between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, has a bittersweet reputation.
It is problematic in that it is the scourge of the trucking fraternity. It causes long delays and is particularly dangerous during the winter. The hill is closed over a dozen times each winter due to serious accidents or because it is impossible to navigate. In most cases, the closings only serve to cut off Wawa from its southern cousin in Sault Ste. Marie. The hill and the area around it also happen to be one of the “10 best drives in Canada” according to the Canadian Automobile Association. The stretch is promoted by several Northern towns, including Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa and White River. The hill’s notoriety was exponentially increased on August 18, 1980 when Terry Fox traversed its three-kilometre length with a t-shirt that read “Montreal River Here I Come” and “I’ve Got You Beat” on the back.
The plan to relocate the Montreal River hill caught the attention of the Northeastern Superior Mayors Group (NESMG), who have lobbied for an alternative route through an extension of the Ramsey Industrial Road from Highway 144 through to Highway 129 for the past seven years.
The Town of Chapleau has been trying to convince the province that the Ramsey Road extension is a viable alternative to Highway 17 for the past nine years. Upon the establishment of the NESMG, the matter quickly obtained status as a major initiative for the group. Briefs have been prepared and presented to various cabinet ministers, among them the current Minister of Transportation, Harinder Takhar. The NESMG has invited various senior bureaucrats to discuss the matter to no avail. The announcement this past winter that the province would go ahead with the relocation of the Montreal River hill was disheartening. The NESMG has always promoted itself based on providing an analysis of a problem and a potential solution or alternative solution. Hello? Is anybody listening?!
The Highway 17 corridor is the only viable route for many communities in northeastern Ontario. The Montreal River hill is somewhat problematic due to its topography. However, the “hill” is also a cornerstone for tourism in the area. Let’s remember that Queen’s Park has told many communities that they should build upon their tourism economy. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the problem that would be created if you remove a cornerstone of that industry.
Kudos to the NESMG and the Town of Chapleau for taking up the challenge and proposing a much more efficient way to spend the $40 million - make the Ramsey Industrial Road an alternative transportation route.
There are always alternatives!
Chris Wray is the CAO, clerk and treasurer of the Town of Wawa. Reach him at email@example.com.