Fontana celebrates $100 million down payment on London's future
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Ever since being elected in 2010, Mayor Joe Fontana has been pushing for the province to step up and help the city develop the so-called Highway 401/402 corridor.
On Wednesday (Oct. 10), the province came through, offering up an estimated $100 million to assist in the building of a new Highway 401 interchange at Wonderland Road South. In addition, the funds will help with improvements to interchanges at Colonel Talbot Road, Highbury Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway.
The mayor’s excitement was hard to ignore. In fact, he was already planning on how he could leverage the province’s commitment to spur even greater investment in the area.
“It is a down payment as far as I am concerned. Now we have a plan we can take to the federal government, we have taken it to the private sector, they are enthusiastic,” Fontana said. “This is big, big, big news. Any time you can get the provincial government to give you $100 million bucks, we should be jumping up and down with joy and I hope we are.”
Joining Fontana, several councillors and a number of senior city staff members, was London West MP Chris Bentley. Standing on the very spot construction is expected to begin next spring, Bentley said the announcement was the best news possible for the Forest City.
“I know the potential of this city. We have great things going for us. We really are a launching pad for economic activity,” Bentley said. “What we have long struggled with is making all the pieces fit together to realize the true strength. This announcement will help do that.”
The province has issued a request for qualifications for the design and construction of the new Wonderland Road interchange. The environmental assessment work is completed and property acquisition has begun as city officials and their counterparts within the Ministry of Transportation undertake the process of cutting deals with the area’s numerous landowners.
“To do an interchange takes an awful lot of land. We have already been working on it; MTO is working on it,” Fontana said. “That is why we are confident that by 2013 the shovels will be in the ground on this one.”
Fontana said the interchange program will lead to a number of improvements along the 401, including the expansion of Highbury Avenue to six lanes, along with Veterans Memorial Parkway and Colonel Talbot. Even an expansion of Highway 401 to eight lanes is being discussed.
The interchange project is expected to be completed by 2016.
Peter White, president of the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), said the future of the Wonderland corridor will depend on the final design of the city’s Southwest Area Plan. However, he said the LEDC would like to see expanded industrial and commercial capability along the 401.
“In the last three years we have really put a great plan together. It has taken time to do it right, but I think what you see today is it will be something really phenomenal,” White said. “Arvin Sango’s facility is almost completed. Dr. Oetker, the steel is going up this week. At the research park, we have the WindEEE Dome, the Fraunhofer Institute, almost complete. We have really been able to show the success of having the right location and the right offering.”
Fontana said the city has already set aside about $25 million the project. However, that investment, along with the provincial contribution, represents what the mayor might as well have called a good start.
“Along this 10-kilometre stretch, you’ll see hundreds of millions in investment. It is the tens of thousands of jobs in the next number of years . . . the tens of millions of dollars of new taxes that we will be able to use for what we want to do,” Fontana said. “The face of London will never be the same within the next five years.”
For Bentley, the opportunity to bring jobs to London is something he has worked on since first becoming a MP nearly a decade ago.
“Creating jobs is what it is all about. It feeds families, provides economic opportunity, it keeps our young people here,” Bentley said. “For many, many years, people have identified this corridor as a fabulous opportunity; we just haven’t used it. So working together with the city, I am delighted the province is taking the steps necessary to open up this corridor to families and to jobs.”
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