Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation has committed to building a concrete median barrier along Highway 401 in Chatham-Kent and Elgin County.
The decision comes after months of lobbying by area activists who argued a solid barrier would save lives along the area some call “carnage alley.”
“We will be building a concrete barrier,” read a statement from Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Transportation. “However before we do so, we need to do the necessary planning work, which includes an Environmental Assessment to widen this stretch of Highway 401.”
The move was a result of additional analysis and “important conversations with families and advocates,” she added.
Alysson Storey, has been leading the effort to have concrete barriers installed since Aug. 29, 2017 when her friend Sarah Payne and her five-year-old daughter, Freya Payne, of London, were killed in a crossover collision on the highway.
“The grief is still very raw for a lot of us and this doesn’t bring them back. A lot of us have spent a lot of time trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again and I’m very happy that at least we’re starting this process today,” said Storey. “It’s bittersweet to be honest, but we’re certainly happy the first steps are being taken.”
In the short-term, high-tension cables will be built along the highway, something advocates felt would not provide adequate protection for motorists.
“The team at MTO has found a way to expedite the installation of these barriers, starting in a few months, so that they will be up sooner than originally planned,” stated McGarry. “High-tension cable barriers will enhance safety on this stretch of highway as has been proven in many other jurisdictions, including Michigan.”
As the leader of the Build the Barrier group, Storey said cable barriers will be a “satisfactory” short-term solution.
“We’re happy with that as an interim measure and we will be holding the minister to her commitment today to ensure concrete median barriers are built,” she explained.
Storey pointed to the fact there were 22 collisions along Highway 401 in Chatham-Kent last week during a brief period of heavy snow, something she pointed to as further evidence barriers are needed to keep drivers safe.
“It’s called ‘Carnage Alley’ for a reason. It’s a very grim nickname for Chatham-Kent and Elgin County,” she said. “It’s not one we want for very long and a concrete barrier will finish that off once and for all.”
Build the Barrier is planning a town hall with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek at the Lambeth Community Centre on Beattie Street in London starting at 7 p.m.