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Orillia and Severn can’t come together to save highway underpass 2

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In Council Watch
Dec 18th, 2013
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By Sara Ross, Barrie Examiner

A wildlife passage under Highway 11, just outside Orillia in Severn Township, will become a solid wall when the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is done repairing the bridge next year.

Severn Mayor Mike Burkett and Orillia Mayor Angelo Orsi want to maintain the passage, but the township wouldn’t share the $1.7-million cost.

“At this point, it doesn’t fit in with our transportation plan because we have a route under the highway already,” Burkett said Wednesday. “It really isn’t advantageous to Severn at this point in time.”

The MTO is rehabilitating two Highway 11 bridges — one kilometre apart from each other — that run over former rail lines.

The ministry has agreed to maintain the passage under Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) bridge No. 80, but not the one under Canadian National Railway Company (CNR) bridge No. 79.

The Uhthoff Trail — part of the Trans Canada Trail — runs under CP bridge No. 80 and is located off Forestwood Drive near Holcroft Road. It is a recreational trail used by snowmobilers, cyclists, hikers and others.

CNR bridge No. 79 is used primarily by wildlife to cross under Highway 11. It is located between the Laclie Street exit and Huronia Road.

Local naturalist Bob Bowles said Highway 11 acts as a “big barrier for wildlife movement.”

“(There’s) a lot of recreational use on (No. 80),” Bowles said. “That’s going to deter the animals from using it.”

Severn Township “fought hard” to ensure the No. 80 tunnel was large enough to be used as a wildlife passage and large enough to accommodate a large snowmobile trail groomer, Burkett said.

“We’re not sure if an animal will go through the tunnel,” he said, adding the MTO has agreed to put a light inside it to guide wildlife. “What we’re concerned about is the wildlife going over top of the highway.”

In August, without discussing a partnership option with Orillia, Severn council voted against using its taxpayers’ dollars to maintain the tunnel.

“Our council saw no reason to leave it open because the CN rail line doesn’t belong to Severn,” Burkett said.

In September, Orillia council requested Severn develop a joint partnership, with each municipality paying $850,000.

“(Paying) $850,000 for a project that will be lasting 50-plus years, it’s not a bad price to pay if we’re all in agreement,” Orsi said Wednesday.

In December, Severn confirmed it would not reconsider.

“I feel that it should remain open also, but I don’t feel it should burden the residents of the township for $850,000,” Burkett said.

Orsi said he would have liked to maintain the passage because it could become a linkage in the future.

Orillia’s paved Millennium Trail ends just before the No. 79 passage. Severn’s portion of this trail is still made up of black railway gravel. It leads to a dead end at the Uhthoff quarry, which split the trail years ago.

In future years, Orillia could use the No. 79 passage to create a trail network from Orillia’s north end, through Severn and Oro-Medonte to Scout Valley and back to Orillia’s Millennium Trail.

Orillia’s only option was to pay $60,000 to $100,000 to break the MTO’s project contract and defer construction until the next council term, when it could be voted on by a new council, Orsi said.

During Monday’s budget ratification meeting, city council voted against the option.

“It’s a tough decision,” Orsi said. “I would have liked to support it. I can’t see risking $60,000 to $100,000 in fees.”

Orsi said it’s “unfortunate” the MTO awarded the tender before the municipalities could solidify a partnership.

Both passages should be maintained, Bowles said.

“People should really get concerned about closing off that second one,” he said. “That’s the only way (wildlife) can get from one side of Highway 11 to the other.”

The MTO should help to fund the project, Bowles said.

“MTO should be shouldering some of this,” he said. “We really do need both of them.”

The MTO would not comment on the matter Wednesday.

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