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OPSEU calls for independent investigation of Highway 401 safety

TORONTO -- OPSEU President Leah Casselman has called on David Turnbull, Ontario Minister of Transportation, to appoint an independent investigator to look into highway safety on a 66-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 near Chatham, where 15 people have died in 12 accidents in just five months.

"The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario is investigating that stretch of road, and it should be," she said. "But we are very concerned that Ministry staff will not take in to account either the privatization of highway maintenance on that stretch of road or the layoff of hundreds of highway construction inspectors since 1996."

The Chatham area was the first to see the privatization of highway maintenance following the June 1995 election of the Mike Harris Conservatives. Private maintenance began Dec. 1, 1996 on approximately 1,500 kilometres of provincial highway in Essex, Kent, Lambton, and parts of Elgin and Middlesex Counties.

"Privatization of highway maintenance and increased self-regulation by private construction contractors are political priorities of this government," Casselman said. "There is a potential conflict of interest if government merely investigates itself."

OPSEU warned of potential safety hazards when the privatization of highway maintenance was first proposed. In a 1996 report, the union warned that a focus on private profit would necessarily take money away from the quality of maintenance.

"While driver error is a factor in every accident, it seems highly unusual that one short stretch of road should somehow attract worse drivers than any other stretch of road," Casselman said. "We’ve got to find out what’s happening before one more person dies."

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For more information: Randy Robinson (416) 448-7441

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