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In anticipation of the future expansion of the highway, the transportation ministry purchased a 91.4-metre-wide (300 ft) right-of-way along the entire length.
Generally, the highway occupies only a portion of this allotment.
Access between the two is provided by transfers, which are strategically placed to prevent disruptions caused by closely spaced interchanges.
The overall purpose of the collector-express system is to maximize traffic flow for both local and long-distance traffic.
To the south of Woodstock, Highway 401 curves northeast and encounters the western terminus of Highway 403.
After this 10 km (6.2 mi) gap, the highway interchanges with the Highway 407 Express Toll Route.
On August 24, 2007, the portion of the highway between Glen Miller Road in Trenton and the Don Valley Parkway / Highway 404 Junction in Toronto was designated the Highway of Heroes, as the road is travelled by funeral convoys for fallen Canadian Forces personnel from CFB Trenton to the coroner's office in Toronto.
On September 27, 2013, the Highway of Heroes designation was extended west to Keele Street in Toronto, to coincide with the move of the coroner's office to the new Forensic Services and Coroner's Complex at the Humber River Hospital.
giving the highway a wide span and four carriageways.
This system primarily serves to accommodate and organize various traffic movements from the Highway 403 / 410 and Highway 427 interchanges along Highway 401, replacing an earlier plan that would have run Highway 403 directly to Eglinton Avenue and the never-built Richview Expressway.
East of the interchange with Renforth Drive, the collector lanes diverge to become the on-ramps to Highway 427 northbound and southbound.
an extension to Brighton Beach (at the Canada–US border in Windsor) was completed in November 2015, after which the Gordie Howe International Bridge will extend Highway 401 across the Canada–United States border through Delray to Interstate 75 in Michigan by 2019.
Near Tilbury, Highway 401 loses its tall wall median barrier and narrows to four lanes, following lot lines laid between concession roads in a plan designed to limit damage to the sensitive agricultural lands through which the highway runs.
In 1965 it was given a second designation, the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway, in honour of two Fathers of Confederation.