MTO minister Del Duca ditches trucking meeting
PRESCOTT - Back in March of this year, during a blinding snowstorm, a tanker truck overturned on Highway 401 near Mallorytown. The driver of the truck died. Dozens of others were injured in the multi-car pileup that resulted, and toxic chemicals flooded the area.
The incident prompted a discussion at a meeting of Prescott Town Council a short time later. Taking a cue from Councillor Fraser Laschinger, who brought up the topic, Mayor Brett Todd suggested there ought to be new rules in place to govern the movement of transports, particularly those carrying dangerous goods, along 400-series highways during hazardous weather conditions.
The story made headlines, locally, provincially and even around the country. Soon other mayors around the region got on board and wanted to take the matter up with the province's Ministry of Transportation. In fact, the Eastern Ontario Warden's Caucus, along with the Eastern Ontario Mayor's caucus, are both behind the effort. The provincial government, too, appeared agreeable to the idea and there seemed to be good communication between the local municipalities and their provincial counterparts.
About a dozen mayors, including Todd and Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Mayor Pat Sayeau, attended a meeting in Kingston early Monday in the hope of taking the first steps to addressing the dangers of truck traffic and winter road conditions. That isn't what happened, however.
"There was a fair amount of anger and frustration in the room," said Todd, who gave an update on the matter during a regular meeting of town council Monday night.
Though Steven Del Duca, Ontario's Minister of Transportation, was scheduled to be at the meeting, he cancelled out last week. While there were a surfeit of senior staff from the Ministry in attendance, no decision-makers made the meeting.
"The disappointing thing is they had no political representation," said Todd, noting that this meeting had been in the works for more than six months.
Though the Ministry of Transportation appeared to be sympathetic to the municipalities' concerns, Todd said it seemed that there had been no follow-up by the Ministry on the matter over the past six months.
Also at the meeting were representatives from the Ontario Trucking Association, which is not opposed to the imposition of safety measures, but also wants to make sure the interest of the trucking industry is reflected in any action taken.
"They're a big part of the solution," said Todd, stressing that in no way are his and his colleagues' efforts to be interpreted as an indictment of the trucking industry or of truck drivers.
The states of both New York and Pennsylvania have regulations of the sort that the mayors and wardens are looking for in Ontario--regulations that will either take transports off the road or lower the speed limits on 400-series highways during exceptionally hazardous winter weather.
Todd, Sayeau and their colleagues made sure the provincial representatives knew, and took back to their superiors, that this issue requires redress and local officials had no intention of giving up. In fact, the mayors are still planning to discuss the matter face-to-face with the Minister.
"All the mayors indicated a strong willingness to go to Toronto to meet with Minister Del Duca," said Todd.