Is London city council experiencing Déjà Vu nearly 50 years after letting what could have been the city’s biggest project ever, slip away?

The London Freeway Plan was first conceived in 1960, and over the next 13 years it was perfected, revised, debated, approved, and quashed multiple times, before the province tired of London’s indecision and built what became Highway 402 southwest of the - then - city boundaries.

The drawn-out debate is similar to the scenario being played out in London today with Shift Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Mayor Ed Holder has said London risks losing multi-million dollar transit/BRT funding if a wish-list is not finalized by March 20, 2019.

London’s Lost Freeway

The London Freeway plan first drawn up in 1960 by consultant A.D. Margison, laid out a vast freeway plan connecting from Highway 401 in two locations in the south, and one route in from the north.

All would have congregated downtown with Ridout Street as the main freeway thoroughfare.

It’s notable to point out that the main east-west portion of this proposal included the use of the CP Rail lines, a concept still mentioned today as a potential route for London’s future traffic needs.

London freeway 1960
A recreation of London first freeway plan, prepared by a consultant in 1960.

But, by 1966 the original plan was out and another concept was released.

Designed in phases, its main route would have connected at the already built present day 2.7 kilometre expressway from the 401 to nearly Hamilton Road.

It would have travelled northbound near Norlan Avenue before the continuing through the Fairmont neighbourhood.

Next, it would have followed Second Street through undeveloped lands and then curved west on Killally Road before continuing west along the river near Windermere, through then largely undeveloped lands.

London freeway plan 1966
A recreation of London's revised freeway plan, created by a consultant in 1966. There would be many more revisions before all freeway plans through London ultimately failed. This particular map included several more phases, to be built in subsequent years not shown here. The west end of the freeway would eventually continue to Sarnia, Ont. effectively becoming Highway 402.

This plan was again revised in 1968. The northern span remained unchanged, but the north-south route was moved east, to undeveloped lands, shown on different concept maps from the period from anywhere from Hwy. 73, to near the present day Veteran’s Memorial Parkway.

In late 1969, several key London politicians began their political careers.

“At that time the major election issue was the freeway. And, not necessarily having the freeway, but the location of the freeway,” Orlando Zamprogna tells CTV London.

Zamprogna served on city council from late 1969 until 1991, before returning in the late 1990s for one additional term.

He says the freeway was enticing to the city, as the province was willing to pay for the vast majority of it, and London was feeling the pressure of the times from the pending construction of a freeway through Kitchener-Waterloo.

“And because the big boys were onside, and the province was willing to pick up the bulk of the money, it became the thing to do.”

Yet initially, Zamprogna was among those opposed to the freeway.

He was joined by a raft of new aldermen (today known as city councillors), who were elected to council for the 1970 term, partly due to their opposition to the plan.

Watch to learn more

Watch the full reports to hear more from Zamprogna and from former London mayor Jane Bigelow.

The series includes present day interviews and pieces collected from the CTV London archive.

Also hear from retired CTV London/CFPL-TV news anchor, George Clark, who covered many of the political debates over the freeway.

Zamprogna, Bigelow and Clark draw analogies between the freeway debate then, and the BRT debate today.

London freeway news
A CFPL-TV (now CTV London) newscast run sheet from 1971. A look through the archives shows the freeway debate was a frequent top news story, just as BRT has been over the past several years in London.