Hwy 3 Hwy 3 Hwy 3   

Ontario Highway 3 Quick Facts:
  • Years in Existence: 1920-Present
  • Current Status: In Service
  • Location: Southern Ontario
  • Counties Served: Essex, Elgin, Oxford, Norfolk, Haldimand & Niagara
  • Towns Served: Windsor, Essex, Leamington, St. Thomas, Aylmer, Tillsonburg, Delhi, Simcoe, Jarvis, Cayuga, Dunnville, Port Colborne & Fort Erie
  • Western Terminus*: Ambassador Bridge - Windsor
  • Eastern Terminus*: Rose Hill Road - Fort Erie
  • *Hwy 3 was downloaded between Hwy 77 and Hwy 4
  • Current Length: 258.4 km / 160.5 miles
HWY 3 - © Cameron Bevers
King's Highway 3 Sign © Cameron Bevers

History of King's Highway 3:

King's Highway 3 is a major collector highway which generally follows the Lake Erie shoreline between Windsor and Fort Erie. Significant portions of Highway 3 follow the historical route of the Talbot Road, which was an early 19th Century Ontario pioneer road that was established to encourage settlement near the north shore of Lake Erie. The designation of Highway 3 as a major east-west highway route across Southern Ontario brought additional prosperity and development to this region. Highway 3 served as a vital through route between the London-St. Thomas area and Windsor, until the completion of Highway 401 in the 1960s. In recent decades, Highway 3 has declined in importance in terms of carrying through traffic, although the highway still serves numerous towns and cities along the province's southern tier.

The history of Highway 3 dates back to 1920, when the Department of Public Highways (DPHO) assumed ownership of a series of existing roads which passed through the Counties of Essex, Kent, Elgin, Oxford, Norfolk, Haldimand & Welland (Niagara). Preliminary Route Plans were prepared throughout 1920 for the various sections of the new road, which began in Windsor and extended southeasterly to Leamington, then northeasterly to St. Thomas, then easterly to Niagara Falls via Simcoe, Dunnville and Welland. The highway was then assumed in sections over a period of two months during the summer of 1920. A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared on May 15, 1920, showing the proposed route of a new Provincial Highway within Essex County. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Essex County on June 24, 1920. In Kent County, a Preliminary Route Plan was prepared on May 26, 1920, showing the proposed route of a new Provincial Highway from Wheatley to the Elgin County boundary. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Kent County on July 2, 1920. The proposed route of the Provincial Highway through Elgin County was shown on a Preliminary Route Plan dated June 27, 1920. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Elgin County on August 4, 1920. The route of the new highway only just passed through the corner of Oxford County. A Preliminary Route Plan showing the new route was prepared on June 26, 1920. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Oxford County on July 31, 1920. A Preliminary Route Plan was prepared on July 6, 1920, showing the proposed route of a new Provincial Highway within Norfolk County. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Norfolk County on August 4, 1920. The proposed route of the Provincial Highway through Haldimand County was shown on a Preliminary Route Plan dated April 21, 1920. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Haldimand County on June 24, 1920. The final section of the proposed Provincial Highway within Welland County was shown on a Preliminary Route Plan dated June 1920. The highway was assumed by the DPHO within Welland County on August 25, 1920. Sections of the road passing through Windsor, Essex, Leamington, Blenheim, St. Thomas, Aylmer, Tillsonburg, Delhi, Simcoe, Cayuga, Dunnville, Welland and Niagara Falls were not assumed by the DPHO and thus those sections of the route remained under municipal jurisdiction. The new Windsor-Niagara Falls Highway was 414 km (257 miles) in length, including the municipally-owned sections within towns. When highway route numbering was introduced in Ontario in 1925, the Windsor-Niagara Falls Highway was designated as Provincial Highway 3. The highway was redesignated as King's Highway 3 in 1930.

When Highway 3 was first assumed, almost the entire length of the highway was either earth, sand, clay, or gravel surfaced. Only a handful of sections were paved with a macadam surface. Accordingly, many sections of Highway 3 were impassable in wet weather during the 1920s. Fortunately, paving work progressed very rapidly on this highway. The entire length of the highway was completed with a concrete or macadam surface just eight years after the first paving contract was let by the DPHO in 1921. The last gravel section on Highway 3 between Windsor and Niagara Falls was eliminated in 1929, when the final 19 mile gap in the pavement was closed just east of Blenheim.

The original route of Highway 3 was changed near Windsor and Fort Erie, in response to the two new International Bridges between Canada and the United States which had been constructed during the late 1920s. The completion of the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo, New York in 1927 resulted in a shift in traffic patterns between Dunnville and the Niagara Frontier. Originally, Highway 3 turned north at the community of Chambers Corners, located northeast of Dunnville. Highway 3 then continued to Niagara Falls via Becketts Bridge and Welland, while Highway 3A continued easterly towards Fort Erie via Wainfleet and Port Colborne. By the late 1920s, traffic began to favour the shorter Fort Erie route offered by Highway 3A east of Chambers Corners. In 1930, the two route numbers were reversed, so that Highway 3 would become the through route to the Peace Bridge via Port Colborne and Fort Erie. Meanwhile, Highway 3A turned northeasterly towards Niagara Falls at Chambers Corners. The Ambassador Bridge was completed between Windsor and Detroit, Michigan in 1929. The original route of Highway 3 entered Windsor via Dougall Avenue. In 1929, Highway 3 was rerouted onto Huron Church Road in order to service this important new bridge. The old road into Downtown Windsor via Dougall Avenue was renumbered as Highway 3A, which later became Highway 3B in 1935. In the late 1930s, the Department of Highways of Ontario (DHO) reconstructed Highway 3 as a divided highway from Windsor to Oldcastle. In addition, the DHO set aside land along Highway 3 from Oldcastle to Maidstone in order to extend this divided highway easterly towards Essex. This right-of-way from Oldcastle to Maidstone was graded for a second roadway, but the graded roadway was never actually utilized for a dual highway. Traces of the grading for this proposed 1930s divided highway are still visible today along the south side of the existing highway.

The route of Highway 3 changed very little from the 1920s until the 1990s. A new bypass was completed around Tillsonburg in 1973. The St. Thomas Expressway was completed and officially opened to traffic on September 7, 1981, after nearly 8 years of construction. The St. Thomas Expressway is a two-lane undivided arterial highway that is completely controlled-access. The highway was constructed with grade separations and a full interchange at First Avenue. Sufficient right-of-way was reserved so that the highway can be converted into a divided highway in the future when traffic volumes warrant such improvements. During the 1970s and 1980s, Highway 3 was relocated onto a new roadway between Maidstone and Ruthven. The new highway bypassed Essex and several other small communities along the original highway. In 1999, the Leamington Bypass was completed, which allowed through traffic to bypass the congested route of Highway 3 through Downtown Leamington.

Considerable portions of Highway 3 were lost to downloading in 1997-1998, when nearly 35% (or just over 150 km) of this highway was transferred to municipalities. Prior to 1997, Highway 3 was 411 km in length. Two short sections of Highway 3 were transferred to the Regional Municipality of Niagara on March 31, 1997. This included a short provincially-owned section of Highway 3 immediately west of the Highway 140 Junction in Port Colborne and a 4.2 km section of Highway 3 in Fort Erie east of Rose Hill Road. In addition, the Highway 3 Connecting Links within Port Colborne and Fort Erie were repealed, reverting maintenance responsibilities for these urban sections of the route entirely to the municipalities. The downloaded sections of Highway 3 in Niagara Region are now known as Niagara Road 3. Significant changes to Highway 3 came about in 1998. A 145 km section of Highway 3 from the end of the Leamington Bypass to the Highway 4 Junction at Talbotville Royal was downloaded to Essex, Chatham-Kent and Elgin Counties on January 1, 1998. It was determined that this section of Highway 3 carried little long-distance through traffic, as this function was largely carried out by Highway 401 which paralleled Highway 3 to the north. This downloaded section of Highway 3 is now known as Essex Road 34, Chatham-Kent Road 3 and Elgin Road 3. The eastern end of the Leamington Bypass from Highway 77 to Old Highway 3 was also downloaded to Essex County on February 2, 2000. The eastern end of the Leamington Bypass is now known as Essex Road 33. Highway 3 is now a discontinuous route, severed into three separate pieces which are linked together by municipally-maintained roads.

Significant improvements have taken place along the Highway 3 corridor between Windsor and Leamington. The existing route of Highway 3 is one of the most congested two-lane highways in the province and these improvements will ensure that the highway continues to meet increased traffic demand in the future. Construction began on the widening of the Essex and Maidstone Bypass between Essex Road 34 and Essex Road 8 in 2007. The existing two lane highway will be widened from two lanes to four lanes, in addition to intersection and roadside safety improvements. The remainder of Highway 3 from Walker Road (Essex Road 11) to Essex Road 34 was widened in 2009-2010 to a five-lane urban cross section. Fortunately, the right-of-way for this highway widening was set aside in the late 1930s for a future divided highway, which never materialized.

Highway 3 passes through predominantly rural areas along its trek across Southern Ontario. The principal towns located along the highway are Windsor, Leamington, St. Thomas, Aylmer, Tillsonburg, Delhi, Simcoe, Dunnville, Port Colborne and Fort Erie. Most sections of Highway 3 are two lanes, but the road is a four-lane divided highway from the Highway 401 Junction to Cabana Road in Windsor. Near Cabana Road, Highway 3 joins Huron Church Road, which continues through Windsor to the Ambassador Bridge as a six-lane divided arterial road. Highway 3 is now a four-lane highway with divided and undivided sections between Highway 401 and Essex Road 8. Highway 3 is a four-lane undivided highway from Fort Erie to Gasline, a community just east of Port Colborne. Other short undivided four-lane sections exist along Highway 3 near major towns along the highway's route. Services along Highway 3 are generally fairly plentiful, although they are a little scarcer along the rural sections between St. Thomas and Leamington. The speed limit on Highway 3 is 80 km/h (50 mph), unless posted otherwise. Please visit the Highway 3 Mileage Chart page for a list of mileage reference points along Highway 3.

HWY 3 ROUTE MAP - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 3 MILEAGE TABLE - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 3 PHOTOGRAPHS - © Cameron Bevers

Additional Information About King's Highway 3:

Learn More About King's Highway 3  (My Upcoming Publications)

King's Highway 3 - Route Information  (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)

King's Highway 3 - A Virtual Tour  (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)

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