Ontario is right to build more toll roads: Editorial

Item date: 
April 10, 2015
Item context: 

The Toronto Star's editorial board confirms its support for building new public toll roads, using the new 407 eastern portion as an example of good policy.  Unfortunately, they take a needless swipe at the 407 ETR Consortium which, by keeping toll rates high, ensures that drivers have a reliable trip at all times. If the board is really interested in reducing congestion, pollution, urban sprawl and crashes while raising more revenue for sustainable modes, it would call for comparable rates on the new 407 (as well as 412 and 418) and then work with Transport Futures to advocate for tolls to be ``more broadly applied`` -- from our perspective that means to all existing provincial and municipal roads.

Another perspective on this editorial come from Transport Futures partner, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario




Surveys show Ontarians aren’t keen on toll roads, but they should welcome construction of another 65 kilometres of pay-as-you-go highway in the Greater Toronto Area. Despite their unpopularity, tolls represent good policy.

That’s especially true for a $1.2-billion expansion of Highway 407 announced by the province this week, with a fixed-price contract for the project awarded to a consortium called the Blackbird Infrastructure Group...

Charging drivers a toll for using a major thoroughfare makes a lot of sense. Simply put, allowing “free” use of Ontario’s highways costs too much. It fuels gridlock, which saps the economy of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, mainly through missed delivery deadlines and employee lateness.

Meanwhile, ever-longer commutes are robbing people of time they could be sharing with family or de-stressing after a strenuous work day. Loss of sleep and heightened aggravation weaken commuters’ health. And the environment is sickened, too, as cars idling in stop-and-go traffic pump clouds of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere.

Tolls can provide a welcome corrective by boosting the cost of highway driving — encouraging motorists to switch to public transit — and by raising money that could be used to fund more trains, subways, streetcars and buses.

It’s unfortunate that tolls aren’t being more broadly applied. A brave effort by Premier Kathleen Wynne to fund expansion of public transit through new “revenue tools” died amid steadfast public resistance. Among proposed approaches, few measures generated more hostility than the specter of road tolls or “congestion fees.”

One factor in that intense opposition was the public’s bad experience with tolls on Highway 407. The Harris government squandered billions of dollars of future revenue by rashly leasing away the highway, for 99 years, to an international consortium.

Worse than that, the 407 consortium was able to jack up tolls dramatically, tripling them to the outrage of hard-pressed motorists. That money will flow into investors’ pockets — not public works — for just short of a century. No wonder people continue to be outraged.

The latest Highway 407 expansion is, at least, a change of direction from that earlier bad deal. The province will set and regulate tolls on this stretch of the highway; it will charge less than the 407 consortium, and resulting revenues will remain in public hands, to be spent for public purposes...

Ontario would be well-served if there were more such highways easing gridlock and generating revenue. People may not like them, but we need additional toll roads.