The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is a difficult one to drive through and you’ll want to be a master when it comes to managing its expressway system. Standard Monday-Friday rush hour times can be menacing with long traffic tie-ups. Even if it's not rush hour, traffic jams can pop up anywhere at any time.

Major Highways Around the City

Most major highways in Ontario, including the Toronto area, are identified by a highway number, like highway 401 or highway 7.  The 400-series highways are freeways (equivalent to interstate highways in the U.S.).

In Toronto, the main freeway is Highway 401, which is the busiest highway in the world. The highway runs through Toronto as a quadruple carriageway (express and collector lanes). Most exit ramps are only accesible from the collector lanes, and both carriageways are linked by sliproads. The highway can be incredibly congested; it is recomended to check local traffic reports or the Ministry of Transportation website before using it. 

Aside from the 400-series highways, Toronto also has a series of municipal expressways. Along the south end of Toronto along Lake Ontario and through downtown lies the F.G. Gardiner Expressway, an elevated expressway providing direct access to downtown Toronto. This runs into the Don Valley Parkway at the east end of downtown which goes north back to the 401. Continuing along the Gardiner past Don Valley, the expressway ends and forms into Lakeshore Boulevard which curves up (via Woodbine Avenue to join Kingston Road. Kingston Rd. runs along Lake Ontario through Scarborough up to expressway Highway 2A which runs back into the 401 in Pickering east of Toronto. Going up Don Valley to the 401 then east through Scarborough is another way to get through the “missing link” area of East Toronto. Highway 427 connects the Gardiner Expressway, in the southwest, to the 401 in the northwest. The 401/427 area is where Pearson International Airport is located. Accessible from the 427 from the south or the 409 (a link expressway from 401 to Pearson) from the east. Keep an eye on the signs for the small road network within Pearson, it gets confusing.

So the 401 to the north, 427 to the west, Don Valley Parkway to the east and the F.G. Gardiner Expressway to the south forms a box around the main city of Toronto.

Suburban Expressways

Further out from the city, there are other freeways. Continuing past the 427 on the F.G. Gardiner (or the Gardiner as it’s locally known), the road turns into the Queen Elizabeth Way ( QEW) which skirts along the south of Mississauga to Fort Erie. Hamilton and Niagara Falls are accessible via highways 403 and 405 which are accessible from the QEW. Moving north along 427 past the Airport, 427 ends at Zenway Blvd.

East along the 401 past 2A in Pickering, the 401 goes through Ajax and Oshawa before leaving the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The 401 going west past the 427 travels through Mississauga past the 403/410 interchange and then out of Mississauga past the 407 interchange and out of the GTA on its way to London.

South of the 401 is the 403 through Mississauga and north of 401 is the 410 going to Brampton.

Between Don Valley and the 427 lie two more north-south expressways. The W.R. Allen expressway is a small expressway extending from the 401 south to Eglinton Avenue, a major east-west artery. Also, there is the 400 which goes from the 401 north to the Vaughan/Richmond Hill area and out of the GTA north to Barrie and cottage country.

Travelling north on the Don Valley Parkway past the 401, it turns into Highway 404 going north to Markham and Newmarket.

Toll Highway 407 ETR

The 407 Express Toll Route is the only toll highway in Ontario.  Visit the 407 ETR website for detailed information.

The entrances to the 407 ETR are marked with large blue overhead and / or roadside signs.  Alternatively, you can use highways 401, 403, and the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) which parallel the 407 ETR route at no charge

There are no toll booths, but overhead cameras are located at all on and off ramps.  The cameras electronically record the vehicle’s license plate.  The toll is then calculated automatically, and a bill is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.  There is no other way to pay 407 tolls.

All Canadian provinces and most American states have reciprocal agreements regarding collection of toll charges.

If you are driving a rental car, the toll bill will be sent to the rental car company (the registered owner).  The rental company will then – per the terms of the rental agreement – charge an administration or processing fee, and bill the total amount to your credit card.  These fees can range from $10 to $60, and for a single trip the fee is often much larger than the toll itself.  Unless the rental car company has specified (preferably in writing) an administrative fee for 407 tolls that you consider reasonable, it's best to avoid the highway altogether.