An Introduction to Ontario's Highways & Classifications

Ontario Provincial Highway History - Main Menu


   Hwy 400    Hwy 401    Hwy 402

Ontario's 400-Series Highways

Hwy 416    Hwy 417    Hwy 427   

At the top of the classification ladder are the 400-Series King's Highways. These roads are almost exclusively controlled access freeways, and are relatively few in number (15 in total, counting the Queen Elizabeth Way & 407 Express Toll Route). These important routes form the backbone of Ontario's road infrastructure, and are being expanded constantly to meet the needs of Ontario's economy. They are numbered from 400 through 427, plus the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) which does not have a posted route number. In recent years, these 400-Series Highways have been numbered according to other highways lying adjacent to them. The 407, 410, 416, 417, 420 & 427 all adopted their route numbers from another highway that was bypassed by the 400-Series route. The 407 Express Toll Route (ETR) is technically not a provincial highway. The toll road is operated and maintained by the private sector, but the land that the highway occupies is owned by the Ontario Government and leased out to 407 ETR. However, the 407 ETR was originally designed and built as a standard 400-Series King's Highway, so it has been included in this group.

With only one exception, all 400-Series King's Highways are at least four lanes wide, and are divided roadways. However, many of the 400-Series Highways have more than four traffic lanes. In fact, one portion of Hwy 401 through Toronto is actually 18 lanes wide (9 lanes per direction), configured in a complex freeway collector-express lane system. In some instances, a 400-Series Highway is built as a "staged freeway" with only two traffic lanes provided initially. However, these staged freeways are built in such a way that conversion to a four-lane divided highway facility can be done without much difficulty. Currently, the only two-lane staged freeway left on the 400-Series Highways is a section of Hwy 406 between Port Robinson Road and East Main Street in Welland. This highway was originally built as an undivided two-lane roadway, but will be widened to a four-lane divided highway at some point in the future. Staged freeways are becoming very uncommon in Ontario, as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) generally finds it more economical to construct the highway with a four-lane cross section right from the project's onset.

The 400-Series Highways have the highest geometric design standards out of all of Ontario's Highways. All of the routes have been designed as freeways, even though some routes were originally constructed as staged freeways. Design speeds normally range from 100 km/h to 130 km/h, with horizontal and vertical curve standards that are superior to those standards used on conventional two-lane King's Highways. The primary function of the 400-Series Highways is to accommodate through traffic. The 400-Series Highways feature full grade separation at practically all intersecting roads and railway lines. Interchanges are provided along the 400-Series Highways to connect surface roads to the freeways. Interchange ramp geometry varies considerably throughout the province. Ramps at older interchanges, or ramps that carry very light traffic volumes, normally exhibit somewhat lower design standards. Conversely, high-volume ramps, particularly freeway-to-freeway ramps, or ramps that carry a large percentage of buses and trucks, are normally designed to much higher standards.

Nearly all 400-Series Freeways have a posted speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph). One exception is Hwy 406 from Fourth Avenue to Westchester Avenue and from Port Robinson Road to East Main Street in the St. Catharines area. These two sections of Hwy 406 have a posted speed limit of 80 km/h, while the balance of the highway is posted at 100 km/h. A section of Hwy 403 from Hwy 6 North to Aberdeen Avenue in Hamilton has a posted speed limit of 90 km/h. Reduced speed limits have also been imposed along the approaches to the International Bridges at the ends of the QEW, Hwy 402, Hwy 405 and Hwy 420. The speed limit has also been reduced to 80 km/h on Hwy 401 from Dougall Parkway (Formerly Hwy 3B) westerly to the end of the freeway at Talbot Road (Hwy 3). Recently, the approach to Pearson International Airport on Hwy 409 in Toronto was reduced to 60 km/h.

The 400-Series Highways are marked using the same basic black-and-white crown-shaped highway markers that are used on conventional King's Highways. Overhead freeway signs are now becoming much more common, particularly in urban areas where there are large numbers of closely-spaced interchanges. The following photos are of a modern King's Highway 400 marker, a modern King's Highway 401 marker and a modern Queen Elizabeth Way marker:


HWY 400 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 401 - © Cameron Bevers             QEW - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2004

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2004

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2007


   Hwy 2    Hwy 7    Hwy 11

Ontario's King's Highways

Hwy 17    Hwy 69    Hwy 93   

Conventional King's Highways are primary trunk highways which have route numbers between 2 and 148 (until recently, 2 through 169). All King's Highways are paved. These routes are usually two or four-lane undivided roads, but there are some that have been upgraded to expressways and freeways over the years. Construction of new conventional King's Highway routes has been rather limited in recent years. In general, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has been opting to construct new routes as freeways, since their capacity is much higher than conventional highways. Generally, the King's Highways were numbered in approximate order of assumption or designation date. In recent decades, however, some old route numbers were reused. Thus, there is no real "system" in place in terms of route numbering logic in Ontario. However, some route numbers tend to be clustered close together. For example, most of the highways in the 50s lie between Brantford and the Niagara Peninsula, and most of the highways in the 80s are in Southwestern Ontario. This is merely a coincidence, however, and does not represent any effort made to number highways in any particular sequence.

The King's Highways generally have fairly high geometric design standards, although most routes are not built to the supreme standards that are used for the 400-Series Highways. Design speeds normally range from 80 km/h to 110 km/h, with horizontal and vertical curve standards that are superior to the Secondary Highways, but are not quite up to the standards used for the high-speed 400-Series Freeways. Some King's Highways are built as freeways with full grade separation at intersecting roads and railway lines. Freeway sections are generally built to the same standards as the 400-Series Highways. For example, the design standards used on the freeway section of Hwy 115 between Enterprise Hill and Peterborough are practically indistinguishable from the 400-Series Highways. However, most King's Highway routes are merely built to arterial or collector highway standards, depending on the function and traffic requirements of the roadway. The primary function of the King's Highways is to accommodate through traffic, although many routes serve as collector highways with considerable local access.

The posted speed limit on most rural Ontario King's Highways is 80 km/h (50 mph). Those portions of the King's Highways that have been upgraded to expressways or freeways generally have a posted speed limit of 90 km/h or 100 km/h. A handful of major highways in Northern Ontario have a posted speed limit of 90 km/h (56 mph). The posted speed limit on most rural portions of Hwy 11, Hwy 17, Hwy 17A, Hwy 61, Hwy 66, Hwy 69, and Hwy 102 is 90 km/h. The rural sections of Hwy 101 from Wawa to the Hwy 647 junction, and from Timmins to Matheson are posted at 90 km/h. The Sudbury Bypass portion of Hwy 144 has a 90 km/h limit. Also, a limited portion of Hwy 71 from Nestor Falls southerly to Emo is posted at 90 km/h. All urbanized and built-up areas along these highways will have lower speed limits imposed. Watch carefully for signs indicating a change in speed limit!

There are a few "suffixed" or alpha-numeric King's Highway route numbers in Ontario. Route numbers like Hwy 11B and Hwy 7A still exist in Ontario, albeit in rather limited numbers. Generally, routes with a suffix "A" are alternate routes and suffix "B" are business routes. Business routes ("B" suffix) were very common in the 1960s and early 1970s, when many new highways were built which completely bypassed towns. The routes were designed so that a motorist could exit the new highway, access the town's services and amenities, and find the way back to the main highway with little difficulty. Often, these routes were temporary measures, until regular highway users got accustomed to finding their way through a town and back out to the highway. Some "B" suffixed highways lasted only a few years before being decommissioned. There were three highways in Ontario that carried a "C" suffix (Hwy 3C, Hwy 7C & Hwy 40C). I suppose the purpose of this suffix was to denote a "connector" route. However, this designation was so rarely used on highways, that my explanation for its existence is pure speculation on my part. There was one highway that carried a "D" suffix. For a few years the Dundas Diversion (Cootes Drive) was known as Hwy 8D. There was also a Hwy 2S between Gananoque and Brockville. The "S" in this instance stood for "Scenic".

The King's Highways are marked using the same basic black-and-white crown-shaped highway markers that are used on the 400-Series Highways. Overhead signs are uncommon on conventional highways, although they are becoming much more common on freeways, even if they are not part of the 400-Series Freeway System. The following photos are of a modern King's Highway 112 marker, a modern King's Highway 129 marker and a modern King's Highway 11B marker:


HWY 112 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 129 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 11B - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2003

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2007

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2003


   Hwy 500

Ontario's Secondary Highways

Hwy 673   

The Secondary Highway system was introduced in 1955 to service regions in Northern and Central Ontario. Secondary Highways generally connect small towns to more important highways, although some Secondary Highways do serve as through routes connecting major highways to large towns. Secondary Highways are usually inferior in design to King's Highways, and are constructed to somewhat lower standards. Traffic volumes on Secondary Highways are generally much lower than on the King's Highways. Most Secondary Highways are paved, although there are some which are gravel-surfaced. Secondary Highways are numbered between 502 and 673, incorporating most of the available numbers in the 500s & 600s. There are a few "suffixed" or alpha-numeric Secondary Highway route numbers in Ontario. Route numbers like Hwy 522B and Hwy 560A still exist in Ontario, albeit in rather limited numbers. Generally, routes with a suffix "A" are auxiliary spur routes and suffix "B" are business routes. Nearly all Secondary Highways are collector and local roads, which do not generally accommodate through traffic. The posted speed limit on most rural Secondary Highways is 80 km/h (50 mph). The only Secondary Highway that has a posted limit greater than 80 km/h is Hwy 655, which runs from Timmins to Smooth Rock Falls. It has a posted speed limit of 90 km/h and is generally designed to King's Highway standards.

Secondary Highways are marked using black-and-white trapezoid-shaped highway markers. These signs are only used on provincial Secondary Highways. The following photos are of a Secondary Highway 527 marker, a Secondary Highway 560 marker and a Secondary Highway 599 marker:


HWY 527 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 560 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 599 - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2004

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2006

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2003


   Hwy 800

Ontario's Tertiary Highways

Hwy 813   

The Tertiary Highway system was introduced in 1962. These highways were mostly resource access roads, generally built into the most remote areas in Northern Ontario. These roads were constructed in small numbers, and with only one exception, do not end at a settlement or community. Most of these Tertiary Highways were later upgraded and rebuilt to Secondary Highway standards. At present, there are only six Tertiary Highways in Ontario. All are gravel roads, except for Hwy 802 and Hwy 805, which both have some paved sections. The speed limit is usually 80 km/h, but care should be exercised even at that speed. These roads are often of much lower design standards, and the condition of these routes can change very quickly in wet weather. The Tertiary Highways are numbered from 801 to 811 (at one point, numbering ran from 800 to 813). Tertiary Highways are not always maintained or plowed during the winter months, so one should inquire locally before using these roads between October and April.

Tertiary Highways are marked using black-and-white rectangular-shaped highway markers. The following photos are of a Tertiary Highway 802 marker, a Tertiary Highway 810 marker and a Tertiary Highway 811 marker:


HWY 802 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 810 - © Cameron Bevers             HWY 811 - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2001

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2001

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2004


   Hwy 7    Hwy 11    Hwy 12

Ontario's Trans-Canada Highway Routes

Hwy 69    Hwy 400    Hwy 417   

Certain sections of Ontario's King's Highways have been designated as Trans-Canada Highway Routes. The primary Trans-Canada Highway Route follows Hwy 417 from the Quebec Boundary to Arnprior and Hwy 17 from Arnprior to the Manitoba Boundary. This route of the Trans-Canada Highway follows Hwy 17A along the Kenora Bypass. The Northern Ontario Route follows Hwy 11 from North Bay to Nipigon via Cochrane and Hearst. The Central Ontario and Georgian Bay Route follows Hwy 7 from Ottawa to Sunderland, Hwy 12 from Sunderland to Port Severn, Hwy 400 from Port Severn to Parry Sound and Hwy 69 from Parry Sound to Sudbury. Branch routes of the Trans-Canada Highway also exist along Hwy 66 through Kirkland Lake and Hwy 11 and Hwy 71 via Atikokan, Kenora and Fort Frances. In Ontario, Trans-Canada Routes are marked with standard black-and-white crown-shaped King's Highway markers, which are accompanied by a separate green-and-white Trans-Canada Highway sign.

Most of the Trans-Canada Highway Routes in Ontario are conventional arterial two-lane King's Highways, although the sections from Port Severn to Parry Sound, Sudbury to Whitefish and Arnprior to the Quebec Boundary have been converted into controlled-access freeways. The posted speed limit is 90 km/h on most rural portions of the Trans-Canada Highway following Hwy 11, Hwy 17, Hwy 17A, Hwy 66 and Hwy 69. The posted speed limit is 80 km/h on most rural portions of the Trans-Canada Highway following Hwy 7 and Hwy 12. Freeway sections of the Trans-Canada Highway are generally posted at 100 km/h. The following pictures show a Central Ontario Route marker, a Georgian Bay Route marker and a French-text Northern Ontario Route marker:


TCH Central Ontario Route - © Cameron Bevers         TCH Georgian Bay Route - © Cameron Bevers         TCH Northern Ontario Route - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2004

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2006

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2007


Ontario's 7000-Series Highways


In addition to the provincial highway types identified above, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) also maintains a small number of unmarked provincial highways. These provincial highways are not identified on any road maps, nor are they marked by highway signs. For inventory and accounting purposes, the MTO assigns these unmarked routes an identification number somewhere between 7000 and 7999. These "7000-Series Highways" are usually former alignments of King's Highways that were bypassed by an improved highway, or local roads in northern geographic townships which do not have an organized local roads board. Other 7000-Series Highways are short, otherwise "local" roads in organized municipalities, that were deemed to serve an important provincial function. In many instances, the 7000-Series Highway designation is only temporary. The MTO will often assign a 7000-Series Highway number to a road which either hasn't been formally designated as a King's Highway (such as a new highway that is still under construction), or a former King's Highway that will eventually be transferred to a local road authority. These 7000-Series Highways are scattered all across the province, and sometimes appear in unlikely places. A 7000-Series Highway that many website users may be familiar with is Hwy 7094, which was the secret designation for Rest Acres Road near Paris. Until 1997, this highway served the important function of connecting Hwy 24 South to Hwy 403 and Hwy 2. Apart from those individuals who worked for MTO, few would have known that this road was actually an unsigned provincial highway. In 1997, Hwy 7094 was changed to a posted highway route number (Hwy 24).


Ontario's County & Regional Roads


Most of Ontario's arterial roads are Regional and County Roads. These roads are not provincial highways and they are not owned by the Ontario Government. The roads are owned and maintained by the various Regional, County and District Governments situated across the southern half of Ontario. Most of Ontario's County Roads are paved, but their design standards vary considerably from one county to the next. Some County Roads are major arterial routes which carry long-distance through traffic, while others are minor collector roads which mostly serve a local purpose. Many of the major County Roads in Ontario were actually once King's Highways, which were transferred to municipal governments by the province in 1997-1998. Only County Roads that were once provincial highways are discussed on this website, as the topic of municipal roads goes beyond the scope of this provincial highways website.

Ontario's Regional and County Roads are marked with trapezoid-shaped "flowerpot" route markers. County Road route numbers are selected independently by each jurisdiction, meaning that the route numbers are rarely consistent from one county to the next. It is not uncommon for the same road to have multiple route numbers as it passes across county boundaries. The posted speed limit on most rural County Roads is 80 km/h, although some roads in Southwestern Ontario have a posted speed limit of 90 km/h.

The following pictures show examples of Regional and County Road signs in Ontario:


Halton County Road 1 - © Cameron Bevers         Wellington County Road 35 - © Cameron Bevers         Hamilton Municipal Road 97 - © Cameron Bevers

Left: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2008

Centre: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2008

Right: Photograph taken by Cameron Bevers © 2008




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