London’s mayor is eager to hit the ground running as chair of a new task force focused on improving transportation throughout all of southwestern Ontario.
Ed Holder says the Southwest Task Force has been given more than a year to report to the province with its recommendations but he’s hoping to accelerate that process.
The task force was officially announced Tuesday, roughly one year after Ontario’s transportation minister, Caroline Mulroney, announced the first draft of its regional transportation plan, Connecting the Southwest.
Establishing a task force in spring 2020 was among over 40 recommendations from that plan.
“Forgive the pun, it got derailed with COVID to some degree,” Holder said of the delay.
“But you know what? We have to move forward. We have to progress. And the intention is to take a number of committee recommendations and through that be very clear to the province what we think is necessary for London and southwest Ontario, both locally and regionally.”
The draft plan also identified widening Hwy 3 to Leamington, making Highway 401 safer between London and Tilbury, enhancing inter-community rail service, and improving local public transit as potential key actions for the region.
Holder says the task force will look at the entire region “from Woodstock through to Windsor, up through to Owen Sound and south of London, St. Thomas and the rural communities beyond.” The team will meet in May and is mandated to report back within 12 months.
“That seems like a long time to me. There isn’t a mayor, a chief of First Nations, various transportation-related groups, be it private or more public, that doesn’t have a lot of thoughts on this. And so my hope is to accelerate all of that,” he told Global News.
“It’s nice to have room if we needed it, but I’m hoping to accelerate it dramatically.”
Mulroney said in a statement that the province is working to address transportation needs across Ontario and that “feedback from leaders who live and work in the local community will be essential.”
“The Southwest Task Force will ensure transportation plans for the southwest reflect the diverse voices within the community and help determine the most important transportation needs in the region,” she said.
At this time, Holder says he’s open to all ideas. He says rail is “top of mind for me” but the task force will also look at air travel, bus travel and general road transportation, as well as “some other things I haven’t factored in at this point.”
“The committee hasn’t yet met to address it because they’ve only struck the committee formally. I was honoured when the premier and the minister of transportation asked me to chair the group.”
Holder is joined on the task force by Windsor’s mayor, Drew Dilkins, who will serve as vice-chair.
“Windsor is the focal point of so much goods movement, but we are also part of a broader area which is increasingly facing inter-regional transit and transportation challenges,” Dilkins said.
“Working with all stakeholders, I know we can deliver a forward-looking and comprehensive implementation plan for the minister of transportation.”
The task force also includes St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald, Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Joanne Vanderheyden, Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation Chief Jason Henry, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Councillor Sidney Nadjiwon, Owen Sound Transportation Co. Ltd. chair Marta Leardi-Anderson, and Blue Water Bridge Duty-Free Shop vice-president Tania Lee.
The province says additional members will be confirmed at a later date.