News Local

'Real concerns' about closure of underpasses

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

Municipal politicians have asked the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to hold off on its plans to close the old railway underpass near Laclie Street that links recreational trail systems in the Township of Severn and City of Orillia.

Severn Mayor Mike Burkett, Orillia Mayor Angelo Orsi and Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop met with MTO engineers Monday to discuss the MTO’s proposal to fill in the space beneath the former Canadian National Railway (CNR) bridge at Huronia Road and Wilson Point Road and construct a 60-metre-long, four-by-four concrete-box culvert under the former Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) bridge at Holcroft Road and Forestwood Drive when Highway 11 is widened.

“I think now MTO understands that we have real concerns about the closure of the one bridge,” Orsi said.

While the MTO has formally identified the need for a culvert under the CPR underpass, as it is part of the Uhthoff Trail, it has not recognized the CNR underpass as part of the Millennium Trail.

The Millennium Trail, as outlined in Orillia’s active transportation plan, is supposed to run under the CNR bridge through Severn Township and into Scout Valley, forming a loop, Orsi said.

Severn Township hopes to negotiate with CNR to see if it can purchase the old rail bed, said Burkett.

While the MTO has already sent out a request for proposals to fill in the CNR underpass and build the culvert under the CPR underpass, local politicians have asked the MTO to hold off for one year.

Documentation prepared by the MTO indicates nothing needs to be done to the CNR bridge for at least six to 10 years, Burkett said, noting the MTO has estimated the cost of closing off the space beneath it will be between $1.5 million and $2 million.

“They weren’t adamant that it has to happen immediately,” said Dunlop. “At first, they had their heels dug in as if they were planning on going ahead exactly the way they wanted to ... By the end of the meeting, they wanted to go back and re-examine what they came up with.”

Burkett hopes the MTO will decide whether to grant the extension “very soon.”

“Once it’s closed, it’s definite. It’s closed for good,” said Burkett.

All three politicians said the MTO should be focusing its dollars on other projects, like the traffic lights they’ve been asking for at Fairgrounds Road and Highway 12 at the west end of Orillia since before 2007.

The MTO will not comment on ongoing discussions, said spokesperson Astrid Poei.

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