Ontario, Quebec highway service centres slated for major tune-up

Jordana Divon
Daily BrewApril 18, 2012

Unless you're a fan of sporadic fast food chains, facilities along the stretch of Ontario's 400 and 401 highways have traditionally left much to be desired.

While commuters could pull into a host of service stations during long drives, the combination of fast food, motor oil, and less-than-stellar washrooms made pit stops a last resort rather than a destination.

But according to the Globe and Mail, those stations are about to become the stories we tell our children about the days when you'd rather hold your bladder all the way to Montreal than subject yourself to a service centre restroom.

Three years ago, the Ontario government called for proposals to upgrade its service stations — some of which have gone four decades without a tune up. To date, 20 centres have been slated for major overhauls by 2013, with 14 currently up and running in towns like Napanee and Port Hope.

In other words, they're classing up the joints.

"It's important that people are able to rest and not over-tax themselves on the highway," John McKendrick, Infrastructure Ontario's senior vice-president of project delivery, told the paper. "It's important for the development of tourism in the province … and they're a very important service from a public infrastructure perspective."

The province decided to look into a series of public-private partnerships that would reinvigorate their ideas… and their budget.

While the government committed $200 million toward the renovations, a group of private partners injected an additional $100 million into the project.

One of those partners is Maryland-based hospitality service firm HMS Host Corp., who the article notes will manage and maintain the sites for a 50-year run.

"The more money they make, the more we make," McKendrick said. "We think these service centres will pay for themselves over the life of the concession."

The new ONroute service centres feature building facades constructed with local stone, peaked roofs that mirror the bedrock outcrops dotting Central and Northern Ontario, and will each share a link to its nearest town, including signage that details upcoming local events.

And keeping with an environmentally conscious ethos, the centres have incorporated green elements, like waterless urinals and touchless faucets that will reduce water use by 40 per cent.

Accessibility features like changing stations, lower condiment tables and garbage cans have been designed with wheelchair-bound visitors in mind.

Though the roster of food stops includes standards like New York Fries, Burger King, and good old Timmy's, health conscious diners will finally have a few more palatable options, like Extreme Pita and a convenience market with fresher goods.

Quebec is set to follow suit by revamping 10 of its highway service centres, with seven following the private-public partnership and three operated by the province alone.