The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce welcomes the re-introduction of the Connecting Links program and commends the Ontario Government for recognizing the important role that many local roads and related infrastructure play in the economy and overall well-being for most Northern Ontario cities and communities.
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce maintains that Connecting Links is a critical funding program for many border communities and that the funding is needed to maintain infrastructure that supports the provincial transportation system.
Mark Barsanti, President of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce notes that “for many decades, the Province had acknowledged its responsibility to assist municipalities that do not have highway by-passes, making it necessary for through traffic to travel on municipal streets. In Sault Ste. Marie this support dates back to 1961. Some border communities had potential to be particularly affected by the 2013 cancellation of the Connecting Links program as they have a connection to the U.S. Interstate Highway system in their downtown core.” He adds that each community had a negotiated, mutually agreed-to list of roads, including bridges, designated as ‘Connecting Links’.
With the pending cancellation of the program in 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation referred cities to the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative funding program and provided a reminder that in accordance with the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act, connecting links remained under the jurisdiction and control of the municipalities and that it was their responsibility to maintain them.
Locally, it was estimated that this would effectively reduce the volume of road reconstruction and resurfacing by 10 to 15% annually in Sault Ste. Marie. The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce maintains that this would have had a significant negative impact on road rehabilitation efforts and on the local construction industry.
Many stakeholders, including the City of Sault Ste. Marie, lobbied extensively for the re-instatement of the funding. In 2014, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce authored a policy resolution pertaining to the cancellation of the original Connecting Links program with a recommendation that the Ontario Government re-instate 75% of program funding for municipal connecting links in continued recognition of the Province’s responsibility to assist municipalities that service through traffic. The policy resolution was submitted to and adopted by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce as an item of advocacy at the provincial level.
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber Commerce would like to commend to the Government of Ontario for recognizing the importance of this program and extend a special thank you to our local MPP, the Honorable David Orazietti, for delivering news of the program’s re-introduction earlier this week. The Chamber also extends its sincerest thanks to the many individuals locally and within our municipal government that have worked to get this program re-instated and to those that will work to ensure that funds are put to good use locally.