Grey Highlands leaders are reacting with cautious optimism that Simcoe County Road 91 will remain open for the long term.
CollingwoodToday spoke to Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen and Deputy Mayor Dane Nielsen for their reactions to the recent news that Clearview Township would not be proceeding with an attempt to upgrade Sideroad 26/27, which was one part of the bigger plan to close a portion of Simcoe County Road 91 between Grey County Road 31 and Clearview Concession 10.
“The jury is still out,” McQueen said when asked about Clearview’s decision. McQueen, who has been arguing in favour of keeping County Road 91 open for many years, said he wants to see what the next step is before reacting too positively. “At the end of the day, it did not make sense to close (County Road 91).”
Nielsen said he feels Clearview’s decision is a positive step.
“It’s great news for Grey Highlands. It didn’t make sense to convert 26/27 into a county-level road. It’s a rural road. (Upgrading it) would have eaten into our natural heritage,” said Nielsen. “It was short-sighted and there was no logic to it.”
The plan to close a portion of County Road 91 (with the road property to be sold to Walker Aggregates for an expansion of its gravel pit) and upgrade Sideroad 26/27, which is currently a seasonal road, to handle local traffic needs has been percolating for more than a decade. McQueen said the issue dates back to her first term on Grey Highlands council (McQueen has served on the past five councils - one term as a councillor, one term as deputy mayor and is in his third term as mayor).
“I’ve been on this forever,” he said. “There is still a motion on the books that (Grey Highlands) doesn’t support the closing of (91) unless there was an equal or equivalent road to replace it. (The motion) hasn’t changed.”
Grey Highlands council has always had significant concerns about the County Road 91/Sideroad 26/27 plan as County Road 91 is a key feeder route for traffic travelling through Grey Highlands and The Blue Mountains to the Collingwood and Stayner areas.
“It’s a major corridor,” said McQueen. “At one time, it was calculated that there were 1,000 cars a day on (County Road 91).”
Recently, Clearview township announced it was withdrawing applications to the Niagara Escarpment Commission to proceed with the upgrading of Sideroad 26/27. The township made the decision after the provincial government announced in December 2022 that it was ordering schedule C bump-up environmental assessment for the Sideroad 26/27 proposal.
“Over the past dozen years, the township has been faced with the rescinding of approvals granted by provincial departments and agencies, and the introduction of increasingly onerous changes to the law and policies that govern municipal road authority and projects; events beyond the township’s control that make the improvements no longer practical, reasonable, or cost-effective,” Clearview Mayor Doug Measures said in a statement.
The plan to close County Road 91 was controversial with the public. Local citizens started the Save91 campaign in an effort to keep the road open. Wendy Franks, a founding member of the campaign, released a cautious statement praising Clearview for this decision, but noted that the township has not “unequivocally” said it would not be proceeding with the closure of part of County Road 91.
“We congratulate Clearview for making this long overdue decision, which temporarily protects taxpayers and the Niagara Escarpment,” said Franks. “Many voices in the community have been calling for this for a long time. Our citizens, and our environment, will permanently benefit when Clearview finally steps back from this unnecessary plan to close County Road 91.”
In the statement, Franks said the entire plan was unnecessary.
“The plan to close County Road 91 and replace it with a seasonal road like Sideroad 26/27 is simply not needed and is contrary to any current community need,” said Franks. “Walker has use of both of their quarry pits. There is no need for this costly project – and it benefits the region to have County Road 91 open.”