Highway 69 stalled—’I hope that it’s not a partisan issue’

Highways usually are non-partisan.

But the four-laning of Highway 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound has always been championed by Liberals since Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci was calling it the “Highway of Death” during the Mike Harris PC governments of the 1990s.

It was under Liberal rule since 2003 that saw millions put into the new 400.

And now it appears with a new Progressive Conservative government that the project is stalling, with no new work scheduled after 2021 and no money committed in last week’s budget.

The Ministry of Transportation says the four-laning is not cancelled, but says all spending approved by the previous government is under review. 

“I hope that it’s not a partisan issue,” says former Sudbury Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault.

When he left office in the spring of 2018, he says negotiations with three First Nations along the remaining 68 kilometres were going well and they were ready to put the next two contracts out for bids.

“So we would have been able to keep it moving and keep the shovels in the ground,” says Thibeault.

The Ministry of Transportation says talks are continuing with the Henvey Inlet, Shawanaga and Magnetawan First Nations.

But Magnetawan Chief Lloyd Myke says he hasn’t spoken to the province in over a year. 

Two unused overpass bridges sit in the bush near Key River waiting for the new four-laned Highway 69 to be complete. (Erik White/CBC )

“It’s been a quiet year. There’s been no progress or anything made in negotiations. We haven’t been able to sit down at the table,” he says.

“It’s uncertain where they’re going with it.”

Myke says the main issue for Magnetawan is getting properly compensated for the use of their land, as well as ensuring that the gas station and Tim Hortons the community has built along the existing highway continues to provide jobs and revenue to the First Nation. 

“It’s only going to happen once and we have to be in a better position after it’s done,” says Myke. 

Crews are busy on the 14-kilometre stretch of four-laning south of Alban, being done at a cost of $200 million. (Erik White/CBC )

Ghaffar Khan is pretty sure he would sell less gasoline if the new highway is built behind Key Marine Resort, which he’s run for the last 19 years.

But Khan is hopeful that a four-lane highway would bring up more tourists from Toronto to rent cabins and fishing boats.

“One thing is for sure is that it’s not a good idea to leave it in between,” says Khan.

“When 70 to 80 per cent is complete, you might as well finish it.”

Ghaffar Khan has owned the Key Marine Resort on the side of Highway 69 for nearly 20 years. (Erik White/CBC)