Whether it’s the result of a gas light turning on, someone in desperate need of a pit stop, or annoying passengers that makes you want to get out and walk the rest of the way, at one time or another we’ve all welcomed the road side sign that reads: Service Centre Ahead. Within the past few years, 23 service centres along Highway 401 from Windsor to the Quebec border were shut down as a result of expired oil company leases, with the aim to modernize facilities that were originally constructed in the 1960s. During the demolition and construction phase, an overwhelming majority of the service centres were closed, which meant that if you needed gas, food or relief, you had to venture off the highway into parts unknown.
Earlier this summer many of the new service centres started to come back online, including the one closest to Kingston, OnRoute Odessa. As I pulled into the Westbrook station, I realized I’d never been to the previous centre, as I am more apt to coast into the Limestone City on fumes than pull off the road 2 minutes before reaching exits at Gardiners, Sydenham and the like. Come to think of it, I bet lots of Kingstonians will never visit OnRoute Odessa.
The new stylish service centre at Odessa was constructed southwest of the old UFO-shaped facility, which is still in the process of being demolished. All of the new stations look exactly the same, designed by Quadrangle Architects Limited, they’ve been built to last 50 years, and were constructed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification standards. The Ministry of Transportation lists sustainable design features as follows:
- Water efficient landscaping utilizing drought resistant planting – no irrigation required.
- Reduced water use by more than 40 per cent by utilizing waterless urinals.
- Elimination of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the heating and cooling equipment — chlorofluorocarbons are refrigerants that cause ozone layer depletion.
- Optimized energy performance utilizing energy efficient equipment.
- Use of regional materials that contain a minimum of 15 per cent recycled content.
- Use of adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and carpets that are low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) to meet standards such as Green Seal or the Green Label Indoor.
- Washrooms featuring increased capacity and touchless fixtures for water saving.
Each OnRoute centre has a different combination of fast food franchises, designed to torture your waistline and blood sugar levels. Options at other 401 stations range from Taco Bell to East Side Mario’s and Starbucks, while Odessa’s facility serves up Burger King, Pizza Pizza and Tim Horton’s. Aside from the revamped dining options, OnRoute Odessa offers free WiFi, outdoor patios, pet exercise areas and interesting tidbits of information about the surrounding area. And just what are passers-by learning about us? Kingston is the birthplace of hockey…of course.
I personally like the aesthetics of the new centres, and while I can see the advantages of having them all look the same, the uniformity takes away a bit of the regional charm the previous facilities offered. The eco-friendly design features are fantastic, and the amenities, specifically the WiFi, are a definite upgrade that will benefit those of us without wireless plans. As much as I want to get excited about possible fast food combinations at facilities along the 401, the selection here and there is really no different than what you can get at any fast food alley in Canada. Now that OnRoute Odessa, and the rest of the OnRoute centres are coming online, perhaps that will result in less traffic at Kingston’s traveler magnet along Division Street.