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There are no winners here. The roads suck, traffic is terrible, parking is too expensive, potholes are enormous, drivers are distracted and construction is somehow both constant and inadequate to maintain our beleaguered highways. But don’t worry.

As a consolation prize, we now get to drive 10 km/h faster.

Beginning September 26, the Ford government is raising the speed limit to 110 km/h on three stretches of highway as part of a pilot project meant to explore new ways to improve traffic flow. Those highways are:

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  • Highway 402 from London to Sarnia (90 km)
  • Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) from St. Catharines/Lincoln to Hamilton (32 km)
  • Highway 417 from Ottawa/Gloucester to Ontario/Quebec border (102 km)

How, exactly, a 10 km/h bump to the posted speed limit might improve traffic flow isn’t mentioned. If we could get traffic flowing by just driving a little faster, well, gosh – why didn’t anyone say so before? The truth is that there are too many cars and not enough space for everyone to speed.

This pilot project is nothing more than a placebo for frustrated drivers. If, by some miracle, you happen to hit those highways when they’re empty enough for you to take advantage of the new limit, you’ll hardly notice the 10 km/h difference. If you commute during rush hour, the new speed limit is a cruel joke, something to think about while you survey this vast kingdom of interminable gridlock.

A higher limit means that when traffic is muddling along at 80 km/h, there will now be someone on your bumper thinking it’s his right as a taxpayer to do 130 km/h – instead of the current de-facto limit of 120 km/h.

There are so many other ideas Ontario could have explored to improve the situation on our roads, and I’m not even talking about the most obvious one: investing in an immediate, major expansion of public transit to provide a legitimate year-round alternative for drivers.

Instead of devoting resources to implementing and enforcing this new 110 km/h limit, the government could focus on reckless drivers and tailgaters. These aspiring Top Guns are the ones who actually disrupt traffic flow, accelerating like Tom Cruise’s character Maverick off the deck of an aircraft carrier before immediately slamming on the stoppers. They cause everyone around them to fall into a similar pattern. In Germany, tailgaters on the Autobahn face penalties of up to $580 and a three-month licence suspension. Would that be enough to dissuade tailgaters here? Not only is tailgating dangerous, the jack-rabbit style driving it results in burns more fuel, which costs more money and spews more greenhouse gases into the air.

At 110 km/h your car will burn roughly 10 per cent more gas than at 100 km/h, thereby undoing much of the fuel-efficiency gains cars have made in recent years.

The provincial government could have instead devoted efforts to improving the outdated driver education curriculum. Or, we could better police left-lane hogs, whom everybody hates. How about this one: the Ministry of Transportation could come up with more effective ways of curing the epidemic of distracted driving that’s killing an increasing number of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Those ideas aren’t as popular or fun as announcing – “Let’s all drive faster!” – but probably should have been a higher priority.

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An extra 10 km/h is a participation trophy. It’s a way of saying thanks to drivers for coming out, for playing the game, for wasting so much time in traffic.

Don’t think you have no say in all of this. The provincial government is asking for your opinion on the pilot project using an online survey that runs until November 23. Hopefully the survey isn’t just another placebo.

If roads are the arteries of a country, a cardiologist would take one look at ours and come back with a dire prognosis: we’re living on borrowed time unless we make some drastic changes. A 10 km/h increase to the speed limit is not what the doctor ordered.

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