400-series highways (Ontario)

400-series highways (Ontario)

The 400-series highways are a network of controlled-access freeways throughout the southern portion of the province of Ontario, Canada, forming a special subset of the provincial highway system. They function similarly to the Interstate Highway network in the United States. Modern 400-series highways have high design standards, speed limits of 100 km/h (62.5 mph), and various collision avoidance and traffic management systems. 400-series highway design has set the precedent for a number of innovations used throughout North America, including the parclo interchange.

The province's baseline standard for the construction of a 400-series highway (or any controlled-access freeway in Ontario) is an average traffic count of 10,000 vehicles per day. However, other factors are considered as well. To promote economic development in a disadvantaged region (e.g. current construction extending Highway 400 to Northern Ontario), a 400-series highway may be built where the existing highway's traffic counts fall below 10,000. As well, for environmental, budgetary or community reasons, some proposed 400-series highways (e.g. the Highway 400 extension from 401 to the Gardiner Expressway canceled in the 1960s) have not been built, even where an existing highway's traffic counts exceed the standard.


For their entire length, 400-series highways are intended to be completely controlled-access and divided, with a minimum of four lanes. Although the 400-series freeways currently form a network around Highway 401 and the QEW, this has not always been the case (such as Highway 417 until 1999) and being part of a network is not a requirement as it has been for US Interstates. Like the Quebec Autoroute system, 400-series highways have been expanding slowly because they did not benefit from regular federal funding.

Equivalent provincial highways

The province maintains a number of freeways which are up to 400-series standards, yet are not numbered as part of the 400-series network. This is despite some of those freeways exceeding existing 400-series highways in size and traffic volume and despite some of them being connected to the 400-series network. However, most of these non 400-series routes have significant open-access portions besides the freeway section.

The province also maintains freeways which are up to 400-series standards, yet are not numbered as part of the 400-series network. This is despite some of those freeways exceeding existing 400-series highways in size and traffic volume and despite some of them being 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 Highways 400 and 406, planning/construction is underway to upgrade them to full freeway standards.

The non 400-series routes listed below have significant open-access portions besides the freeway section, with the freeway segment typically being a small section not at the route's termini. Most prominent is the Conestoga Parkway in Kitchener-Waterloo, which is numbered in 3 sections; Highway 7/8, Highway 7, and Highway 85, and the Highway 8 "Freeport Diversion" between Highway 401 and the Conestoga. The E.C. Row Expressway in Windsor, Ontario was numbered as part of Highway 2 before the freeway was downloaded to municipal authorities in 1998. Other examples of non 400-series numbered freeways in the provincial inventory are at Thorold (Highway 58), Peterborough to Enterprise Hill (Highway 115), North Bay and southward (Highway 11) and Sudbury (Highway 17, though it is possible that the long-term expansion of Highway 417 could incorporate that freeway section of Highway 17).


The "400-series" numbers were first introduced in 1952 to designate the province's controlled-access highways. The "4" was intended to reflect that these were four-lane roads, although portions of these highways subsequently exceeded four lanes.

Although the Queen Elizabeth Way has no posted highway number, it is considered to be part of the 400-series highway network. In fact, the QEW was the first of the controlled-access highways to be constructed. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation designates the QEW as Highway 451 for internal purposes; this designation never appears on maps or highway signs.

400-series highways receive their numeral designations through one of two ways. The original method was sequential numbering starting at 400 and working up to 409. The first three 400-series highways numbered accordingly were Highway 400, Highway 401 and Highway 402 — originally known as the Barrie-Toronto Highway, Highway 2A and the Blue Water Bridge Approach respectively. Since then, additional highways have been constructed using sequential numbering from 403 to 409. Although there were plans for a Highway 408, it was never constructed (it is speculated that the new Mid-Peninsula Highway bypass of the Queen Elizabeth Way will receive the designation 408). Highway 407 (now 407 ETR) received its designation in the 1960s when it was planned and land was acquired for it, although construction did not begin until 1987.

The later method of 400-series numbering after 1970 was to assign a 400 designation to an upgrade or bypass of an existing highway. For example, part of Highway 427 was the original routing of Highway 27 between the QEW and Highway 401 prior to being upgraded to a freeway, while 427 is a bypass of 27 north of 401. Highway 416 and 417 were the original routings of Highway 16 and 17 respectively, in eastern Ontario. In addition, some 400-series highways are given designations based on the existing highways they bypass. For instance, Highway 410 and 420 were both freeway bypasses of Highway 10 and Highway 20. Highway 424, once constructed, will be a freeway bypass of Highway 24.

In order to qualify for 400-series numbering, the freeway upgrade must start at the terminus of the existing route. If the freeway upgrade does not start at the termini, then the route retains its original number unless one of the open-access termini is decommissioned.

Highway 401 is spoken as "four-oh-one" and Highway 427 is spoken as "four-twenty-seven". Highway 400 is pronounced "four-hundred".

Pavement surface

Unlike most of the U.S.'s highways (which are mostly paved with a concrete surface), the majority of 400-series highways are coated with asphalt pavement. All bridge decks are also covered with asphalt, with concrete only exposed around the expansion joints, in contrast to most U.S. Interstates, which have bridge decks paved with exposed concrete containing tining (grooves).

Normally, asphalt pavements would actually require more frequent maintenance due to the material being less durable in general. In addition, the laying of additional asphalt layers would require a stronger infrastructure, translating to higher construction costs. However, the use of additional asphalt covers on most 400-series highways is due to the fact that the asphalt is more resistant to erosion from de-icing salt than concrete. Salt is regularly used in Ontario since there are harsher winters than that of the United States.

Some sections of 400-series highways have been repaved using concrete pavement. Examples include Highway 401 from Windsor to Tilbury, 402 east of Sarnia, 406, 407 ETR, and 427; 427's concrete pavement has exceeded it 30-year lifespan. Some bridge decks, including the westbound Highway 401 collector lanes overpass over the 401 Don Valley Expressway exit ramp and the westbound Highway 402 overpass at Modeland Road near Sarnia, have also been paved with an exposed concrete highway deck similar to USA interstate standards.

Highway standards

Most 400-series highways follow a list of required construction standards similar to those of many other controlled-access highways systems. However, in some cases, different standards applied at the time of construction and have been grandfathered to the system. This is most prominent on Highway 400, Highway 401, and the Queen Elizabeth Way, whose low standard sections are only upgraded when growing traffic conditions warrant a major reconstruction. Although some highways receive a 400-series number right away, they are not built to 400-series standards until construction of the highway is completed.


All 400-series highways should have at least two lanes in each direction, with HOV lanes separated from general traffic with a striped buffer zone and full shoulder if necessary. Lanes of opposing directions should always be separated either by a grass median, usually of sufficient width to prevent cross-directional collisions, to provide drainage, and may allow for future expansion, or an "Ontario tall-wall" concrete barrier if a grass median is not feasible (the tall wall is based upon the Jersey barrier but is not reinforced and higher at 1070-mm. [ [http://www.tfhrc.gov/pubrds/marapr00/concrete.htm Basics of Concrete Barriers ] ] Full-width left and right paved shoulders are employed on 400-series highways, with rumble strips on each side of the carriageway.

Most 400-series highways have design speed of at least 130 km/h (80 mph), although the posted speed on signs is 100 km/h. Exceptions could be made for sections in urban areas where a 130 km/h design speed cannot be realistically implemented, including Highway 403 through Hamilton (90 km/h), Highway 406 through downtown St. Catharines (80 km/h), and near approaches to border crossings (Highway 401 in Windsor, 402 in Sarnia, and 405 in Niagara-on-the-Lake), which all have a maximum speed of 80 km/h (50 mph).

Unless there are land space constraints, 4-way junctions should employ parclo interchanges with ramps on the right-hand side when it meets with a surface road in order to help maintain speed on the highways. However, there is no standard for freeway-to-freeway junction as it depends upon traffic volumes, only that there must not be any traffic weaving when merging onto each road (this makes interchanges such as the cloverleaf not up to 400-series standard).

Acceleration/deceleration lanes from interchanges must be at least 150 meters long to allow for smooth speed increase/decrease and traffic merging, unless there are land space constraints or low traffic volumes. Such exceptions include the Kipling Avenue to Highway 409 directional ramp and the Dundas Street eastbound to Highway 427 southbound directional ramp. The stretch of the QEW through St. Catherines just west of the Garden Skyway is well known for lacking acceleration/deceleration lanes, as it was originally built in the 1950s; while it has been grandfathered in with merge signs, a planned reconstruction will bring it up to modern standards. In addition, 400 meter or longer "weave lanes" are required for transitions to/from HOV lanes across the buffer zones to allow for safe mergers.


All 400-series highways employ standardized signage. The standard directional signage is white-on-green, with collector lanes using white-on-blue to distinguish between mainline (express) and collector signage. Future toll roads constructed will also need to have white-on-blue signage. Advanced warning signage are placed at 2 km (1.2 miles), 1 km (0.6 miles) and 500 m (1650 ft) before junctions, and square lane deviation signs (unique to Ontario) notifying drivers approximately 1 km prior to their lane leaving the highway. Separated high-occupancy vehicle lanes use black-on-white signage with a diamond logo in the upper left-hand corner.

Most service/attraction signage used on 400-series highways is white-on-blue, though older brown-on-white signs still exist. Caution signage is black-on-yellow, while construction (temporary conditions) signage is black-on-orange.

Road-side advertisements (e.g. billboards) are banned from the right-of-way of 400-series highways. The province has also obtained court orders forcing the removal of advertising signs that are outside of the highway corridor, but adjacent to and still visible from, a 400-series highway (such as along nearby farms close to the freeway). This ban exists to prevent driver distraction. By contrast, the elevated portion of the municipal Gardiner Expressway has many adjacent signs.

Many 400-series highways have also recently had gates installed at entrance ramps, along with special gated ramps located near overpasses, allowing access to the highway to be easily closed in case of emergency or road work.

List of 400-series highways

There are 15 different 400-series highways (including the QEW) creating a transportation backbone across the southern portion of the province. Plans are currently underway to extend the existing network into Northern Ontario as well as add new routes into the system.

Future 400-series highways


ee also

*List of Ontario expressways
*List of Ontario provincial highways
*100-Series Highways of Nova Scotia
*Quebec Autoroutes


External links

* [http://www.mto.gov.on.ca Ontario Ministry of Transportation]
* [http://members.aol.com/hwys/OntHwys/OntHwys.html Database of Ontario Provincial Highways]
* [http://www.canlii.ca/on/laws/regu/1990r.630/20060614/whole.html VEHICLES ON CONTROLLED-ACCESS HIGHWAYS, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 630]
* [http://www.thekingshighway.ca History of Ontario's Highways]
* [http://www.kingshighway.ca Photographs of Ontario Highways]
* [http://www.onthighways.com Photographs and history on the 400-Series Highways (and other provincial highways, too)]

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