Clarington is looking at spending $2.5 million to speed up much-needed improvements to the Waverley Road highway interchange.
On Feb. 6, council voted to send a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, asking that the work be included in MTO’s five-year plan — about 14 years ahead of schedule.
“That interchange really, really needs help,” says Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster. “And 14 years is way too far away.”
The work is estimated to cost about $19 million, and the province is expected to fund about $11.7 million of that.
Clarington is proposing that the additional $7.4 million be split three ways with $2.5 million each contributed by the municipality, the Region of Durham and real estate company SmartREIT — which has plans to build an outlet mall on the former Rona property at the northeast corner of Waverley and Hwy. 401.
Other development planned for the area includes a 72-room Comfort Inn and Suites hotel that is currently under construction, as well as a Sunco-Petro Canada service station planned for the former Fifth Wheel site.
The SmartREIT development is expected to bring 1,500 full and part-time jobs to the community — Mayor Foster says Clarington can’t afford to miss out on that.
“The interchange at Waverley just doesn’t cut it, it’s problematic already,” he says, noting that during rush hour vehicles are frequently backed up onto the highway.
For the new developments to go forward, the mayor says the interchange improvements are “absolutely needed.”
A new report to council says the $2.5 million could be taken from reserve funds, and that it may be possible to recover the money through development charges, mitigating any impact on taxpayers.
Coun. Joe Neal said there are “a lot of needs” in Clarington’s transportation master plan, where the money could be better used.
“I’m struggling with why we would take our strategic reserve money and put it out to help a developer advance this project,” he said. “I don’t support it, based on what I see here currently.”
Coun. Steven Cooke said the chance to increase tourism and bring jobs to the community is good use of the funds.
“As much as we all want to be fiscally prudent, we also need to invest in ourselves. $2.5 million dollars is a very good investment for 1,500 jobs,” he noted.
Municipal staff said there are other local examples of municipal governments contributing funds for highway improvements — including the Salem Road interchange in Ajax and the Stevenson Road interchange in Oshawa.
Clarington solicitor Andy Allison said the Stevenson Road project saw MTO pay two thirds of the cost, while the Region of Durham paid one third. In a separate agreement, the City of Oshawa picked up one third of the region’s cost.
He noted that project went “significantly” over budget, and said that might make the region hesitant to contribute in Clarington’s case.
One possible solution is for SmartREIT to cap the amount the municipalities contribute to the project.
If the commercial development goes ahead, Mayor Foster said the municipality will look at how to drive people from the SmartREIT plaza, to downtown Bowmanville and other tourism sites.
“If we have all these people coming to town, how do we make them stick in town? That will be one of the questions,” he said.
Council voted 4-3 in favour of sending the letter to MTO, with Mayor Foster and councillors Steven Cooke, Wendy Partner and Willie Woo in favour, and councillors Ron Hooper, Joe Neal and Corinna Traill against.
Municipal staff stressed the letter is an expression of interest only, and that there is “no binding commitment” involved in sending it.
By Jillian Follert – Clarington This Week