This was a sad day in the history of Ontario's
highways. On January 1, 1998, 3,210 km of provincial highways were transferred or
"downloaded" to local authorities. This was in addition to the 1,766 km of
provincial highways that were lost on March 31, 1997. The roads that were downloaded ceased
to be King's Highways, and became County, Regional, District, or Municipal roads
instead. On these roads, the old King's Highway signage was to a greater extent
removed, thereby destroying any evidence that these roads were once provincial highways.
The idea behind the downloading was to transfer responsibility of roads that
served only a "local purpose" back to the municipalities that largely benefited from the use
of the road. In many instances,
Ontario did have some rather illogical highway duplication that needed to be rectified.
For example, Hwy 93 and Hwy 400 ran parallel for 15 km, yet they were only 1 km apart.
Many of the roads downloaded in 1997 were very logical transfers.
In 1998, the standpoint
changed. In what was apparently a desperate attempt to control spending on highway
maintenance, the government further acted upon the recommendations of the non-partisan "Who Does What"
Committee, and slashed many of the remaining highways. The 1998 transfers were by far the most
significant change to the province's highway network since 1937, when the Department
of Highways assumed the Department of Northern Development's trunk roads in Northern
Ontario after the two departments merged. The magnitude of this change is hard to fathom.
To help readers understand the significance of the recent downloading, I have listed below
in blue text the King's Highways that disappeared entirely in 1997-1998. This list
only includes the highways that were completely removed from the King's Highway
system. This is in addition to the hundreds of kilometres chopped from other existing
highways (excluded from this listing) and the numerous Secondary Highways lost in Central
and Eastern Ontario.
King's Highways eliminated entirely in 1997-1998:
King's Hwy 2A, 14, 18, 22, 25, 27,
29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 38, 42, 43, 44,
45, 46, 47, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 73, 74, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84, 87,
88, 90, 91, 92, 95, 96, 99, 117, 131, 133, 136, and 169.
Road transfers and downloading is nothing new in
Ontario. Since the creation of Ontario's highway system more than 100 years ago, the provincial government
has periodically reviewed the overall highway system. Roads deemed to be outdated/obsolete
or ones that had been bypassed be newer, wider highways were often eliminated. However,
until 1997-1998, most of the transfers were of a localized nature. They generally involved
short sections of highways, and only in rare cases involved entire highways. Until the
1997-1998 downloading, the longest highway lost entirely to downloading was Hwy 98 between
Windsor and Blenheim, in 1970-1971. This road was (logically) deemed to be expendable after Hwy
401 was completed, as these two highways covered more or less the same route. Likewise,
some highways were "uploaded" into the system, where previous highways did not
exist. While this is a rare scenario these days, there were times in the not-too-distant
past where the highway network was expanded by assuming a locally maintained road as a
King's Highway (the assumption of Hwy 134 in the 1970s is a perfect example). So, in
retrospect, the 1997-1998 downloads really marked the end of Ontario's once grand highway
network. The magnitude and the swiftness of the cuts have left a mere skeleton of the old
highway system in place today.