History of King's Highway 406:
King's Highway 406 is a major north-south highway which traverses most of the Niagara Peninsula. The highway runs from the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in St. Catharines to East Main Street in Welland. Highway 406 is now a freeway for most of its length, but some sections of the highway near Welland still have an undivided two-lane cross section. Highway 406 is the only 400-Series Highway that still has two-lane sections, although this will change over the next few years as the two-lane highway sections near Welland are rebuilt as a freeway.
The history of Highway 406 dates back to the late 1950s, when the Department of Highways was trying to develop solutions to ease traffic congestion on Highway 58 between Welland and St. Catharines. Traffic volumes on Highway 58 between the two cities had grown dramatically between 1955 and 1960. Eventually, the increasing traffic volumes on Highway 58 began to overwhelm the old two-lane highway, which ran right through St. Catharines, Welland and Thorold. On November 12, 1962, Premier John Robarts and Highways Minister C.S. MacNaughton announced that the Department of Highways would build a series of new highway corridors in Welland and Lincoln Counties to improve traffic flow in the area. These projects included a new highway tunnel in Welland and a new controlled-access 400-Series Highway to be designated as Highway 406, which would bypass Highway 58 from St. Catharines to Welland. While the Welland Tunnel was contingent on the St. Lawrence Seaway's decision to relocate a section of the Welland Canal, construction got underway almost immediately on the new Highway 406.
Planning for Highway 406 got underway in the early 1960s. The Highway 406 corridor that exists today is actually quite different than the highway that transportation planners had originally envisioned. Initially, Highway 406 was supposed to connect to the QEW immediately west of the Martindale Road Interchange and follow the Twelve Mile Creek Valley right through to Downtown St. Catharines. Between Downtown St. Catharines and the Lake Gibson Bridge, Highway 406 was more or less built along the route identified in the initial route plan. However, the current Highway 406 route between the Lake Gibson Bridge and Welland was built on an entirely different route than the one originally proposed in 1963. On the 1963 route plan, Highway 406 was supposed to swing westerly towards Fonthill and then south to Welland. The highway's southern terminus was originally planned to be at the intersection of Thorold Road (Highway 58) and the Welland Bypass (Prince Charles Drive). However, it was soon determined that a more easterly alignment of Highway 406 situated closer to Allanburg and Port Robinson would be preferable. The initial 1963 route for Highway 406 near Fonthill was not as likely to relieve traffic congestion on existing Highway 58 (Merrittville Highway) than the eastern route would be able to achieve. The new eastern alignment could also be linked to the proposed Welland Tunnel if it was deemed necessary in the future, whereas the Fonthill route precluded this option since it would bring Highway 406 along the western side of Welland.
The first construction contracts for Highway 406 were commenced in 1963. These projects involved the grading and construction of a new four-lane freeway from Geneva Street in Downtown St. Catharines to St. David's Road in Thorold. The first phase of Highway 406 included a full interchange at Glendale Avenue and partial interchanges at Westchester Avenue/Geneva Street and St. David's Road. The first phase of Highway 406 was completed and officially opened to traffic on December 7, 1965. In 1968, construction got underway on the second phase of Highway 406 from St. David's Road to Beaverdams Road. This work included the construction of a new interchange with the Thorold Tunnel Approach (Highway 58 New). Highway 406 was completed as a four-lane freeway from St. David's Road to Beaverdams Road in Thorold on November 21, 1969. Construction began in 1969 on the final section of Highway 406 between Beaverdams Road and Merrittville Highway (Highway 58) in Welland. In order to accelerate construction of the Highway 406 extension to Welland, the Department of Highways decided to construct this section of Highway 406 as a staged freeway. Just south of Beaverdams Road, Highway 406 transitioned from a four-lane freeway to a limited access two-lane undivided highway. The Highway 406 extension to Welland did not have any interchanges or overpasses and all intersections were left at-grade. The Highway 406 extension to Welland was completed and opened to traffic in 1971. The original intention was to convert this two-lane section of Highway 406 into a proper freeway at some point in the foreseeable future, but these upgrades were deferred due to other construction priorities.
Until the 1980s, Highway 406 did not connect to the rest of Ontario's freeway network. Traffic had to cross through St. Catharines along city streets in order to reach the QEW. After years of planning, a new route was identified for the proposed Highway 406 link to the QEW through the Twelve Mile Creek Valley. This proposed highway corridor was much different than the route that had been originally identified for the highway corridor in 1963. Rather than follow the Twelve Mile Creek Valley all the way to the QEW, the new highway corridor turned to the west at the proposed Fourth Avenue Interchange. The new route connected to the QEW between the existing Martindale Road and Seventh Street Interchanges, considerably further to the west than the route identified in 1963.
Construction began on the Highway 406 Extension from Geneva Street to the QEW in 1977. This major highway construction project included a complicated crossing of Twelve Mile Creek and the construction of two high-level bridges to carry municipal streets across the highway. At Fourth Avenue, a special interchange was constructed. The "Single Point Urban Interchange" (SPUI) design was employed at this location due to the space constraints caused by existing land development and the adjacent river. This interchange was the first of its type built on the Ontario provincial highway system. The SPUI is characterized by a single set of traffic control signals spanning across the Fourth Avenue Overpass, which control all turning movements at the ramp terminals. Highway 406 was completed as a four-lane freeway through the Twelve Mile Creek Valley from Geneva Street to the QEW in 1984, finally linking Highway 406 to the rest of Ontario's freeway network. The north section of Highway 406 was officially opened to traffic on October 23, 1984. However, the Twelve Mile Creek Valley presented some very constrained design limitations for the highway designers. Consequently, the section of Highway 406 that follows Twelve Mile Creek between Fourth Avenue and Westchester Avenue has a significantly lower design speed than the balance of the highway. Even though this section of the highway was built as a controlled-access freeway, it has a reduced speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph) as a result of the lower standard highway geometry employed here.
In the late 1980s, construction resumed on Highway 406 near Welland. A contract was called in 1988 to extend Woodlawn Road in Welland so that construction could begin on a new section of Highway 406 along the eastern side of Welland. The Woodlawn Road Extension and Highway 406 Extension projects continued throughout 1989 and 1990. Highway 406 was completed as a two-lane undivided highway from Woodlawn Road (Highway 7236) to East Main Street (Highway 7146) in 1991. This southern section of Highway 406 was discontinuous from the section of Highway 406 that had been opened from Beaverdams Road to Merrittville Highway in 1971. However, this discontinuity was short-lived. In 1993, construction began on a bridge over the Welland River and Old Welland Canal, in order to complete the gap between the two discontinuous sections of Highway 406. This project was completed in 1995, extending the total length of Highway 406 to 25 km. In 2007, a new interchange was completed at Old Highway 20 (Canboro Road) and the existing two-lane highway was twinned to a point just north of Port Robinson Road. A contract for a new overpass and interchange at Merritt Road was commenced in 2009, with completion expected in 2011.
The Ministry of Transportation has conceptually identified a possible extension of Highway 406 from East Main Street to Highway 58A near the Townline Tunnel Approach, but at this time, no construction is planned. This is mostly because of the uncertainty regarding the ongoing Mid-Peninsula Transportation Corridor Studies, which are examining the need and potential locations for a new transportation corridor between Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Until these studies are completed and a preferred route has been identified, it is unlikely that any additional extensions of Highway 406 will take place, since this new highway could substantially alter the existing travel patterns in the Niagara Peninsula. However, construction will begin in 2011 to expand the existing two-lane section of Highway 406 to four lanes. This highway expansion project will also include the construction of a new multi-lane roundabout at the southern terminus of Highway 406 just west of the East Main Street Tunnel. The Highway 406 twinning project is expected to be completed in 2014.
Most of Highway 406 is now a controlled-access freeway with access points at interchanges only. The entire highway from the Queen Elizabeth Way to Port Robinson Road (just south of Old Highway 20) is four lanes, with two lanes provided for each direction of travel. The southernmost grade-separated interchange on Highway 406 is located at Old Highway 20. The rest of the highway from Port Robinson Road to East Main Street is a limited-access two lane highway, with only one lane per direction of travel. This southern section of Highway 406 has three signalized intersections (East Main Street, Woodlawn Road, and Merritt Road) and one unsignalized intersection (Port Robinson Road). However, Highway 406 was built as a staged freeway, so it can easily be twinned and grade-separated in the future when traffic volumes warrant such improvements. There are no Service Centres located along Highway 406. However, services are available at most interchanges. The posted speed limit on Highway 406 is generally posted at 100 km/h (60 mph). However, the Twelve Mile Creek section from Fourth Avenue to a point just south of Westchester Avenue and the undivided two-lane section from Port Robinson Road to East Main Street are both posted at 80 km/h (50 mph).
Exit numbers were introduced on Highway 406 in February 2011. Special enhanced mileage markers showing the highway number, cardinal direction and mileage point were unveiled on Highway 406 in March 2011. Exits on Highway 406 are numbered based on their distance from the Queen Elizabeth Way Interchange in St. Catharines. Approximate distances along the highway can therefore be calculated by subtracting one exit number from another. For example, the distance from Highway 58 (Exit #10) to Fourth Avenue (Exit #4) is 6 km (10 - 4 = 6). Please visit the Highway 406 Mileage Chart page for a list of interchange numbers along Highway 406.
Additional Information About King's Highway 406:
Learn More About King's Highway 406 (My Upcoming Publications)
King's Highway 406 - Route Information (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)
King's Highway 406 - A Virtual Tour (At Scott Steeves' website: asphaltplanet.ca)