Highways in Ontario

Highways in Ontario

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation maintains the system of provincial highways in the Canadian province of Ontario.


Highway classes

Ontario has several distinct classes of highways (French voie publique): King's Highways, (which includes Controlled-access highways) and secondary highways, with individual highways referred to as "that part of the King's Highway known as No. xx," or simply "the King's Highway known as No. xx." [1] For the purposes of legal jurisdiction, however, the Highway Traffic Act deems that tertiary roads are also considered to be "King's Highways" (French route principale).[2]

The term "the King's Highway", first adopted in place of "provincial highway" in 1930,[3] has been deprecated since the 1990s, and the old signs were replaced circa 1993. Currently these highways are again designated "provincial highways"[4] or "provincially maintained highways"[5] by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The Highway Traffic Act, amended as recently as 2006, still refers to them as "King's Highway". Both terms are sometimes used within the same regulation as the older term is phased out.[6]

King's Highways

A King's Highway shield
A King's Highway junction shield

The King's Highways are currently numbered 2 to 427.[7] The Ministry of Transportation never designated a Highway 1.

Some highway numbers are suffixed with a letter. The letter will be one of 'A' ("Alternate route"), 'B' ("Business route"), or 'S' ("Scenic route"). In the past, there have also been routes with the 'C' and 'D' suffixes. They were used so rarely, it is merely speculative as to their purpose, but the two routes (40C and 3C, which both formed loops to their parent routes) may have received the C suffix with the intention of C meaning "Connector", and one road (8D, now Cootes Drive) received the D suffix. Since Cootes Drive was the first fully completed dual carriageway road in all of Canada at the time (the 1930s), it probably stood for "Diversion", as it looped and bypassed the old alignment of Highway 8 in Hamilton.[7]

Highway markers take on one of three designs depending on its use. Standard road shields placed on the highway itself consist of a shield design topped with a crown. In the current design, the highway number and the word "ONTARIO" appear on the shield. Junction signs (used at intersections and on the signs of 400-Series Highways) show a large white crown with the route number in it. Trailblazer signs (those indicating a route "to" a highway) will look like one of the first two but will be green instead of white.

The speed limit on King's Highways is generally 80 km/h (50 mph) in rural areas and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. On rural portions of the Trans-Canada Highway, on RIRO and at-grade expressways, and on certain other highways in Northern Ontario, the speed limit is 90 km/h (56 mph).

400-series Highways

400-Series Highways are a special class of provincial highways, being designed to be exclusively controlled-access freeways for the entire length of the highway. At present, all of them are located in Southern Ontario, where they form a network similar to the US Interstate Highways. The 400-series highways include Highways 400, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 409, 410, 416, 417, 420, 427, and the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), which, although not designated with a 4xx number on signage, is known as Highway 451 internally within the MTO. Originally, 400-Series route numbers were assigned sequentially, but more recently new routes have been numbered based on the existing highway the new route bypassed or upgraded (Highway 427 being an upgrade of Highway 27, for example).

Although the province also maintains freeways that match 400-Series standards, such as the Conestoga Parkway, they are not designated with a 400-Series number, even though some of those freeways exceed some existing 400-series highways in size and traffic volume and are in some cases connected to the 400-series network. Nonetheless, Ontario freeways do not receive a 400-series number unless they are designed to be complete controlled-access freeways for their whole length. While at-grade intersections still exist on Highway 406, planning/construction is underway to upgrade them to full freeway standards. The non 400-series routes typically have open-access portions besides the freeway section, with the freeway segment typically being a small section not at the route's termini.

The 400-Series highways are designed to the highest specifications of any provincial highways, with typical design speeds of 100–130 km/h. Nearly all 400-Series highways have posted speeds of 100 km/h, although in a few instances, speeds are lower, usually to account for dangerous or obsolete-design areas. For example, Highway 403 near Hamilton is signed at 90 km/h because of a series of sharp curves, and Highway 402 is signed at 70 km/h on the final approach to the border crossing at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia.


A Secondary Highway shield

Secondary highways exist in Northern Ontario (and used to exist in Central and Eastern Ontario) to connect towns and remote areas, often connecting small to large towns to major Kings Highways. These highways are currently numbered from 502 to 673. Secondary highway markers are trapezoid-shaped. On the face of the marker appear, from top to bottom: the Ontario coat of arms, the word "ONTARIO", and the number of the highway.

A few secondary highways remain gravel-surfaced, although most have been paved. The speed limit on nearly all of these routes is 80 km/h (50 mph), although Highway 655 is posted at 90 km/h (56 mph). The majority of length in the secondary highway system consists of a single continuous yellow centerline, though some segments are up to kings highway standards either because they serve as a quick connector to them (like Highway 655), or because they are former alignments of King's Highways, or that because they approach an intersection with a King's Highway.

The Secondary Highway system was introduced in 1955 to service regions in Northern and Central Ontario. In Northern Ontario, where there is no county-level system of government to take over road maintenance, secondary highways are still in operation and serve a function analogous to that of a county road, while those in Southern Ontario have all been downloaded to the counties and rolled into the county road systems there.


A Tertiary Highway shield

Tertiary roads connect those regions in northern Ontario not served by secondary highways. Legally, "road" (French route) has the same meaning as highway.[1] These roads are currently numbered 801 to 811, and are marked by a simple rectangular marker with rounded corners bearing the number of the highway and the word "ONTARIO".

Most of these roads are gravel-surfaced and low-standard. The speed limit on these routes is 80 km/h (50 mph), although design standards generally override such.

The Ministry of Transportation introduced the Tertiary Road system in 1962. These roads were mostly resource access roads generally built into the most remote areas in Northern Ontario. These roads were constructed in small numbers, and with one exception (Highway 802), do not end at a settlement. Most of these Tertiary Roads were later upgraded and rebuilt to Secondary Highway standards. At present, there are only six tertiary roads in Ontario. All are gravel roads, except for Hwy 802 and Hwy 805, which both have some paved sections.


In addition to these three classes of highways, the Ministry of Transportation maintains other roads (Resource roads, Industrial roads) that are of strategic importance to the Ministry, but which are not important enough to be given any special marking. These roads are designated with 7000-series numbers for internal inventory purposes, though they are not publicly marked as such. These are frequently, but not always, former highway segments which lost their original highway designation but remain important as connecting routes to communities or other highways.

As a further note, some roads are designated as 7000-series highways but are discontinuous, connected by "non-assumed" roads (roads not under provincial control, such as county roads, or town streets), linking both parts that share the same number.

Also, in Southern Ontario and in the city of Greater Sudbury there are systems of regional, municipal or county roads that are also numbered. These roads are maintained by the local government (Township, City, or County/Region), not by the province.

There are also several formerly designated Ontario Tourist Routes that were located throughout the entire province, but these have since become harder to find, as many signs have been taken down. There are also "Historic Colonization Roads" throughout Central and Eastern Ontario, shown on maps and on street signs. See List of Ontario Historic Colonization Roads for more information.


On April 1, 1997, and January 1, 1998, the Ontario government transferred, or downloaded, several thousand kilometres of provincially maintained highways to the various municipalities in which they are located. These transfers were performed under the reasoning that they served a mostly local function, as a cost-saving measure and as part of a broader exchange of responsibilities between the province and its municipalities. The transfers continue to cause confusion[citation needed] to motorists due to gaps in the middle of several highways and unremoved reassurance markers in municipalities with former Connecting Link agreements, including Toronto, Ottawa and London.

1,767.6 kilometres (1,098.3 mi) of highway was removed from the King's Highway system on April 1, 1997. This was followed by 3,211.1 kilometres (1,995.3 mi) on January 1, 1998, for a total of 4,978.7 kilometres (3,093.6 mi).


  1. ^ a b Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act; R.S.O. 1990, Chapter P.50
  2. ^ Highway Traffic Act; R.S.O. 1990, Chapter H.8
  3. ^ Don W. Thompson (1969). Men and Meridians: The History of Surveying and Mapping in Canada. Volume 3: 1917 to 1947. Canadian Government Publishing Centre. p. 141. ISBN 0-660-00359-7. 
  4. ^ Municipal Act, 2001; SO 2001, c. 25
  5. ^ Provincially Maintained Highways
  6. ^ Conservation Authorities Act; R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 164, Amended to O. Reg. 172/06
  7. ^ a b TheKingsHighway.ca

External links

Portal icon Ontario portal
Portal icon Canada Roads portal

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