By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News staff writer
The Thorold Tunnel will remain open to two-way traffic this winter – unless weather makes closures necessary.
On Monday, Nov. 25, representatives from the Ministry of Transportation, Niagara Region and City of Thorold met to discuss potential solutions regarding the challenges of snow clearing in the tunnel during on-going construction.
Discussion centered on the need to ensure safety for motorists as everyone’s top priority, while respecting the serious inconvenience that a detour would cause if the tunnel was only available to one-way traffic. The main challenge to overcome was that the existing barrier separating the westbound and eastbound traffic made lanes narrow and would not allow a standard snowplow to operate in the tunnel.
The following solution was approved:
- The MTO will maintain the current traffic configuration by using smaller two-ton snowplows that can fit in the tunnel. The equipment, resources and personnel required to operate these plows will be provided at the ministry’s expense;
- Given the smaller size of these plows and their limited ability to keep up with very heavy snow fall, the periodic full closure of the tunnel may be required to keep motorists safe;
- The MTO, Niagara Region, and Cities of Thorold, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines all agreed they would work together to effectively communicate with Niagara’s residents in the event of a full closure;
- The MTO will implement highly visible signage in the event of a full closure and clearly mark the appropriate detour route; and
- The MTO provided regional and city representatives a series of five options for discussion. The solution to use smaller trucks, with periodic full closures during heavy blizzard conditions, was the only option that both maintained safety for motorists and left the tunnel open to two-way traffic.
“I want to thank the Ministry of Transportation for their prompt attention to this issue and taking our legitimate concerns seriously,” Regional chair Jim Bradley said in a news release. “The Thorold Tunnel is a key transportation artery and the solution we all agreed upon keeps this conduit open while maintaining safety on the roadways.”
The Thorold Tunnel construction began in 2018 and isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2021.
It’s a $15.8-million project that includes repairing deteriorated concrete, sealing joints and cracks and maintaining pavement drainage, along with addressing the storm system and pumping station.
It also includes completing major electrical work related to tunnel lighting, electrical controls and building electrical services. Thorold’s mayor said he heard from hundreds of residents and businesses with concerns about traffic through the tunnel during construction.