Ontario’s Highway 400: Infrastructure to Protect Both People and Environment

For the past 60 years, cars have zipped north and south on Ontario’s Highway 400, which stretches from Toronto to Lake Simcoe and the town of Barrie. However, over six decades the infrastructure – aka King’s Highway 400, Ontario-400, or “the 400” – has worn down. The highway is part of the highest capacity route from southern Ontario to the Canadian West, and it’s also the second longest freeway in the province, behind Highway 401.

With the safety of both citizens and the environment in mind, highway rehab projects have been executed in manageable chunks over the past several years, and one such endeavour was undertaken recently in order to complete a much-needed resurfacing of a 16-kilometre stretch of 400 in Simcoe County (from Hwy 93 to Simcoe Rd. 19). Needing an experienced firm to handle a sensitive site, the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) got just that when K.J. Beamish Construction Co. Ltd. – a well-known road builder based out of King City, Ontario, that has been working in the province since 1946, before there was a Highway 400 – was low bidder. Founded by namesake K.J. Beamish, the company is an infrastructure-related services expert and its orange and black fleet and signage is recognized across Ontario.

Part of the Bigger Picture

K.J. Beamish’s responsibilities on the Highway 400 project include traffic control, gravel work and paving, which is the bulk of the work. K.J. Beamish assigned oversight of the job to its longtime trusted project manager Greg Delong, who’s been with the company for 30 years. Under Delong, work began in May 2012 and is slated to be complete in fall 2014, with sections of the highway delivered continuously. “We meet certain milestones each year,” explains Delong.

Additional restoration projects will be completed on Highway 400 beyond 2014, as well. Since the late 1970s, the highway, the “twinned” (four-lane) section of Highway 69 and the greater Trans-Canada Highway, has doubled in length and is now 230 kilometres, connecting the high-energy metropolis of Toronto with Parry Sound and its gateway to the more remote and scenic central and northern regions of Ontario.

The current 16-kilometre, $33 million project supervised by Delong includes excavation, repaired drainage, milling and repaving. K.J. Beamish is fit for the task, as it is a well-known pavement specialist; the company created the first contractor laboratory for the design of hot mix pavement in 1972. In addition, K.J. Beamish is experienced in the safety and environmental run-off considerations imperative when working with active highways. For this Simcoe Country revitalization of Highway 400, K.J. Beamish is utilizing “a moveable barrier.” The barrier, used in order to reduce highway backups, creates “two lanes of traffic going one direction for part of the week, then, by moving the barrier over a lane, two lanes will be going in the opposite direction,” explains Delong.

Completing Challenging Work

As with any road project, Delong says there are a lot of constraints on when construction can take place. He explains, “Timing is important, considering traffic, and when you’re near a cold water feed to a fish stream [as this project is], you only have certain months out of the year you can do underground repair work.”

Challenges within those few months out of the year include scheduling sub trades for utility work, as a project as involved as the Highway 400 segment has “a lot of underground trades on it,” explains Delong. “We need all of the underground work complete prior to carrying on with too much of the road work.” In order to keep things moving, Delong says, “We have weekly scheduling meetings, within the company and with the sub trades.” In addition, K.J. Beamish is also able to self-perform, or “fill in the gaps” for most sub trades, as well.

Assuring a smooth transition between in-house efforts and subcontractor activity, K.J. Beamish often works with trusted, previously tested strategic partners. “We’ve been at it a long time,” Delong explains. “So we generally know the people we’re getting prices from, and it’s mostly people we’ve worked with before.”

Ontario’s Trusted Road Builder

It would be no surprise to the MTO that K.J. Beamish was low bidder; the company’s niche in road building and maintenance has allowed it to complete numerous cost-effective projects across Southern and Central Ontario. K.J. Beamish is headquartered in King City, but has several additional locations from Toronto in the south way up to Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury in the north, and the company maintains several subsidiaries, including Cedarhurst Quarries and Crushing Limited, Royal Paving Limited, Ellwood Robinson Limited, Sentinel Paving and Construction Limited.

The company has eight asphalt plants, a fleet of road-building equipment, a concrete plant, gravel pits, quarries and properties. Its resources allow the company to offer complete services, including winter and summer maintenance programs, crack sealing, asphalt patching, paving, snow clearing/road salting, seeding and mulching, surface treatment, environmental protection, rehabilitation and aggregate material supply (gravel, custom stone).

Completed work by K.J. Beamish – for both the public and private sectors – includes the field management of highways, industrial/commercial parking lots, subdivisions/residential property, golf courses and recreation areas. The “steady work” is one reason why Delong is happy to have spent the last three decades with K.J. Beamish.

The path of the company from inception as a humble start-up in 1946 to road-building empire with a workforce of 600 in 2013 is a telling one. Delong says that of course the company has to meet the bottom line, but it’s been able to grow tremendously by achieving both economic success and customer satisfaction through going the extra mile to deliver completed projects within the scheduled time frame and with consistent quality. For over 60 years, K.J. Beamish Construction Co. Ltd. has been building and maintaining Ontario’s major arteries, including the recently rehabbed Highway 400, and the company will continue to live up to its commitment of promoting progress throughout the province.