The life of Stratford was the result of one road - without the Huron Road and the search for a route from Guelph to Goderich, Stratford may not have existed; and, if it did, without the commerce the road brought it would surely have been a much different town. The future of the road has been the source of much debate over the years - some in Stratford have tried to get the commerce the road brings to by-pass and go around the city; others have argued for the need for four lanes coming into the city; and others have called for a new highway and by-pass altogether. And, with the recent announcement of a preferred option from the Ministry of Transportation, it looks like things might be moving in all of these directions.
I've never been a big supporter of a by-pass around the city - I like the fact that trucks come through the downtown core. After all, if you make it easier for trucks to by-pass the city, you also make it easier for cars to by-pass the city. Economic development follows traffic - the inevitable result of this is that you get less traffic downtown and lessen the potential that people will stay to spend their dollars in the local stores. The same idea goes for our friends down the road in Shakespeare - any by-pass around the town there would destroy its commercial activity, as it thrives on the traffic the road brings into town.
Of the various options presented - a completely new highway that would by-pass Shakespeare and skirt the outskirts of Stratford; an upgrade of the existing highway to four or five lanes; or a hybrid that widened the existing highway and constructed cut-off to skirt the edges of Stratford - it's the last one that is the Ministry of Transportation's preferred option. The details on how it will be implemented still need to be determined through consultation, but a settlement seems to be coming forward after years of debate.
There are issues with this option - for the reasons stated above, I don't like the fact that it will result in a by-pass around Stratford; but the other issues it raises are dealing with the historic Fryfogel Inn and a church/cemetery, along with a number of downtown Shakespeare businesses, that will be impacted to accommodate a widened highway.
That said, there are positives of the preferred option - it preserves a majority of the farmland that could have been taken out of production due to a completely new highway. This was the biggest issue posed by the agricultural community and local farmers were rightly upset about such a proposal.
However, it now looks like opposition to the highway is moving to the issues I posed above - dealing with historic buildings and sites. The Perth County Historical Foundation is upset the Fryfogel would be disrupted. That's a fair concern as no other Ontario Heritage Trust building has ever been moved; however, the Fryfogel isn't in the best shape anyway and this might be the foundation's only chance to find the funds to restore the building. After all, the province is going to save a bundle simply upgrading the existing highway, which means the foundation could lean on the province to pay for the moving of the building further back on its parcel of land, pay for its restoration and build a proper entrance and parking area. As to the cemetery and church that will also be impacted by a wider highway, the same applies - buildings can be moved and it wouldn't be the first cemetery to be re-located.
Downtown Shakespeare is a totally different beast - it's almost as though they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. No highway means less traffic and less business. A widened highway means some historical buildings in the town will either be torn down or face ongoing damage from increased traffic. The solution here is to work with the province to maintain the status-quo - widen the road as much as possible, but given that traffic needs to slow to go through the town anyway, maybe it makes sense to have four lanes merge into two through the town. This way the buildings could be preserved and there would be a natural calming of traffic travelling through Shakespeare.
As to the by-pass that will be created just before the widened highway reaches Stratford - I'll never be sold on it. I like the smell of hog trucks travelling through downtown Stratford. Some people may like the idea of getting trucks out of downtown of Stratford, but I'm still sold on the benefits of the Huron Road and the need to keep traffic to ensure commerce thrives.