Toronto Transportation: Highways

The Gardiner Expressway (along with the Don Valley Parkway and the Allen Road/Spadina Expressway) are municipal expressways owned & operated by the City of Toronto. The other highways, including the 400, 401, 403, 404, 409, 427, and the Queen Elizabeth Way, are 400-Series Highways owned and operated by the Province of Ontario. Highway 407 in a privately owned & funded toll highway, under agreement with the Ontario government.

Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW)

The Queen Elizabeth Way (commonly referred to as the QEW, Q, QE, or Queen-E) is a vital 400-series freeway which links Buffalo, New York and the Niagara Peninsula with Toronto and its western suburbs. The QEW was North America's first super highway was re designed as a dual-lane, divided roadway with landscaping and a grass median with trees, based on the advanced design of the autobahns being built in Germany at the time. Construction on the QEW began in 1931 as a Depression-era civic construction project to connect Hamilton with Toronto. The highway was improved over the 1940s and 1950s to bring the Queen Elizabeth Way up to modern freeway standards between Toronto and Hamilton, and later over its entire length. I t initially terminated at Niagara Falls' Rainbow Bridge, but after World War II was extended to Fort Erie, across the Niagara River from Buffalo.

QEW beside Oakville's Lyon's Gate neighbourhood The freeway starts at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario and continues 139 km (86 miles) through Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and Toronto and ends at the junction of Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway (more info) in Toronto. The QEW through the Halton Region (exits 101 through 123) has been concurrently signed with Highway 403 since 2002. Today, the QEW averages over 200,000 trips per day.

The QEW is not referred to by any route number, nor is it Ontario's hidden "Highway 1," The QEW does have the internal Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) designation of "Highway 451", which ironically gives the oldest 400-Series Highway the highest highway number. In the 1940s, there was no provincial highway 51, so that number did not need to be reserved for a 400-Series "upgrade" of an existing highway (such as Highway 410 or Highway 427).

The highway was not named for Queen Elizabeth I or Queen Elizabeth II, but for the Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) who was married to King George VI, who in 1939 toured Canada to celebrate his coronation.

In the 1960s, high-level bridges were added to bypass drawbridges at Hamilton Harbour (the Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway) and the Welland Canal in St. Catharines (the Garden City Skyway). These bridges were originally toll, but no longer.

Gardiner Expressway
The Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway, known locally as "The Gardiner" connects the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) in the east with downtown Toronto alongside the shore of Lake Ontario to extend to the western suburbs and the QEW. East of Dufferin Street, the roadway is elevated, running above Lake Shore Boulevard.

401 Macdonald-Cartier Freeway

  • 401 Traffic cams
    The King's Highway No. 401 (named the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway) is a freeway that extends across Southern Ontario. It begins at Highway 3, at the outskirts of Windsor, about 12 km southeast of the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit and continues east through or past Ontario's major cities and ends at the Quebec border, connecting to Quebec Autoroute 20 which continues into downtown Montreal and on to Quebec City, and also connects to the Transportation-Canada Highway (with the 401 is NOT!) The road is known simply as The 401 ("four-oh-one").

    View of 401 at Milton From Bridge Highway 401 superceded Highway 2, which was Ontario's first trans-provincial highway, with only 2 lanes along its entire length. The new controlled-access highway was given a 300-foot (91 me) right-of-way with room for future expansion and construction started in the Toronto area in 1951. It was designated Highway 401 in 1952, when the highway to Barrie was given the Highway 400 designation.

    The new 401 super highway was one of several massive public works in the 1950s, which included the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Transportation-Canada Pipeline, and the Transportation- Canada Highway. The last completed segment was completed in 1968 to bypass the Thousand Islands Parkway between Gananoque and Brockville, along the St. Lawrence River. Built over 20 years for a total cost of $425-million, Highway 401 improved trade, and spurred a building boom in bedroom communities around Toronto.

    The official opening of Highway 401 took place in November 1964, with the opening of a 10-mile (16 km) stretch to the Quebec boundary. In 1965, in anticipation of Canada's 1967 Centennial, Highway 401 was officially named the MacDonald-Cartier Freeway, to honour Canada's two founding fathers and the freeway's link to "La Belle Province."

    In 1963, the Toronto stretch would be expanded into a massive 12-lane dual collector & express roadway system, based on Chicago's multi-lane Dan Ryan Expressway, which would have a capacity of 164,000 vehicles a day . This12-laning was completed in 1972, along with an extension to Highway 27 (soon to be 427).

    Today a daily average of 500,000 vehicles travel along the 401, on the section between Highway 427 and Highway 404. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of all trade between Canada and the U.S. is carried by truck via the 401, 403 and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Last year alone it is estimated 4.6 million trucks traveled the Highway 401 Detroit-Toronto corridor. The highway supports Ontario's Ford, Chrysler and General Motors plants with 'just-in-time delivery of production parts.

    Highway 401 runs for 815 kilometers (506.42 miles) and has 18 rest areas or service centres along the route, for gas, good, and repair services without leaving the highway. The 401 was once the longest non-toll freeway under a single highway authority in North America, but has since been superceded by the Texas section of Interstate 10.

    In 1999, the $323-million Highway 416 (The Veteran's Memorial Parkway) connected the 401 to Ottawa, the nation's capital.


  • 403 Traffic cams:
    Highway 403 extends 126 km (78.3 mi.) from Woodstock in the west through Hamilton, Burlington and Oakville to Toronto in the east, connecting with Highway 401 at both ends. On a 22 km (14 mi.) stretch netween Burlington to Mississaug,a it is concurrently signed with the Queen Elizabeth Way, and it is also known as the "Chedoke Expressway" within Hamilton.

    When the QEW was diverted over the Burlington Skyway, the 403 continued west through Ancaster and up the scenic Niagara Escarpment. (NOTE TO DRIVERS: the curves in the Hamilton section are dangerous above the speed limit!).


  • 407 Map
    Highway 407, officially called the 407 Express Toll Route (ETR), is a tollway through the suburban sprawl around Toronto, but bypassing the heavily trafficked core and 401. It begins in Burlington at the junction of the Queen Elizabeth Way & Highway 403, and travels in an easterly direction for 108 km to end in Pickering at Highway 7 and Brock Road (Durham Regional Road 1). The highway will eventually extend further east to connect to Highway 35 in Orono (north of Bowmanville)

    It was intended as a provincial freeway to bypass of Highway 401, the main truck route through Southern Ontario. The 407 has 70 junctions, including these major freeways (from west to east) the Queen Elizabeth Way, Highway 403, Highway 401, Highway 410, Highway 427, Highway 400 and Highway 404.

    Land adjacent to a hydro corridor was acquired for Highway 407 in the 1960s but it sat vacant for almost thirty years. The widening of Highway 401 put the construction of Highway 407 on hold until 1987.

    Canadian Highways International Corporation financed (at a cost of $1.6 billion) and will operate the tollway for 35 years, after which it is returned to the province as a typical, un-tolled 400-series Highway. The 407 ETR has the capability to expand from six lanes to ten, as traffic grows.

    The highway opened in 1997, and for many cars and all heavy vehicles (over 5,00 kg) tolls are collected electronically using transponders (mounted behind the rear-view mirror, without tools), so there are not toll-booths. Non transponder vehicles are sent a monthly bill for the tolls. 407 ETR's all-electronic toll system eliminates traffic line-ups and searching for the right change. Traffic volume is now over 330,000 average workday trips!

    The cost of your trip depends on factors such as:
    • time of day you enter 407 ETR (higher on weekdays 6-10 am and 3-7 pm)
    • vehicle class
    • distance travelled
    • correct mounting and use of a valid transponder (heavy vehicles, over 5000 kg, without transponder face a fine)
    Tolls for a light vehicle (ie car, SUV, small pickup) during peak times are $17.45 per trip end-to-end, and double that for a heavy vehicle

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