I had not yet joined the provincial government when the policy decision to "download" many provincial highways to local governments in the 1990s was made. I understand it was about efficiently, the idea that roads that were not part of the backbone provincial highway system would be better managed by local government. I think that decision is emblematic of our tendency to view infrastructure through a purely economic lens, and miss its social and symbolic value. Wayfinding is a big part of this, connecting important places across the jurisdiction with consistent signage and numbering, creating a sense of familiarity and place. Canada has no federal highway system, uniquely, I believe, in the developed world (the Trans-Canada Highway is merely a designation on existing provincial highways), and in Ontario, even the provincial highway system is skeletal. Those quirky, unique crowns with numbers on them are few and far between. I imagine that it leads to a lot of baffled tourists.
Roads aren't so popular today but they remain an essential part of mobility in both rural and urban areas. Across a Canada largely bereft of passenger rail they are often the only means of transportation. They form an important part of the socially cohesive role of infrastructure, practically and in our imagination. I have not read that the Ontario government is looking to get back into the local road business but I believe it should, before those lovely old highway signs fade completely to white.