Renewed push in Ontario to remove trucks from Highway 401 amid grinding gridlock

Click to play video: 'Province dismisses NDP push to end trucker tolls on 407'
Province dismisses NDP push to end trucker tolls on 407
WATCH: The Ford government is facing a political push to divert commercial trucks away from the 401 and onto the privately owned 407 in a bid to reduce traffic congestion on the province’s busiest highway. Colin D'Mello has the story – Mar 4, 2024

The Ford government is facing a political push to divert commercial trucks away from the 401 and onto the privately owned 407 in a bid to reduce traffic congestion on the province’s busiest highway.

The Ontario NDP tabled a motion at the provincial legislature Monday that asked the government to eliminate tolls for commercial truckers on the 407, a move the party believes would break some of the traffic log jams on the 401.

“I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said. “The tolls on 407 should be removed for truckers to encourage truckers to move the trucks over to the 407 and away from the 401.”

The NDP said it hopes the plan would lead to fewer heavy trucks contributing to traffic on the country’s busiest highway and save commuters time.

The government has been touting Highway 413, which is yet to begin construction after a freeze by the federal government in 2021, as its solution to gridlock on Highway 401.

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A recent Supreme Court of Canada opinion suggested the decision to freeze could be unconstitutional, but no court has formally weighed in yet.

“Everything we do is focused on keeping costs low for families,” Minister of Transport Prabmeet Sarkaria said.

“We’re going to continue to do that as we put forward our legislation as well to make sure no future government can (add tolls) either.”

Asked if the NDP’s plan to move trucks to Highway 407 is viable, Sarkaria said he was focused on building new roads.

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“We’ve been committed to getting shovels in the ground on projects like the 413, which we know are the solution to fighting gridlock,” he said.

A report previously commissioned by the advocacy group Environmental Defence estimated between 12,000 and 21,000 trucks could be moved from Highway 401 to Highway 407 every day.

Phil Pothen, the land use and land development program manager for Environmental Defence, said redirecting trucks onto Highway 407 would remove the need for Highway 413.

“If the government votes against the opposition motion that would deliver all the benefits it says it wants from 413 at a fraction of the cost, this will prove that Highway 413 was never about transportation,” Pothen said.

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In order to move trucks from Highway 401 to Highway 407 toll-free, the government would need to enter into discussions with the company that owns the 407. The province would likely then have to negotiate a rate for trucking companies it would then pay.

Asked by Global News, Sarkaria did not answer questions about removing tolls from the public portion of Highway 407 or removing tolls for trucks across the privately operated majority of the route.

Stiles said Ontario Premier Doug Ford has “shown in the past” he is willing to revisit contracts signed in the past, such as the government’s first-term decision to scrap renewable energy contracts.

The proposal is also an attempt by the official opposition to wedge the Ford government on the issue of tolls.

The government kicked off the spring sitting of the legislature with omnibus legislation, the Get It Done Act. The province has framed the bill as a push to increase affordability, while opposition parties have said it is political posturing with very little substance.

As part of that law, the Ford government is looking to add a ban on future tolls into formal legislation. The ban on future tolls does not include removing tolls from a section of Highway 407 in Durham Region, which is publicly owned and operated.

Ontario Liberal MPP John Fraser said he would vote in favour of the NDP’s motion and accused the government of not following through on its own commitments.

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“The government has put forward a bill outlawing tolls on roads but they’re not taking tolls off the road that they own,” he said.

“Doesn’t that seem a bit strange? Put your money where your mouth is.”

Stiles said she wanted the motion to highlight the issues she sees with the government’s own legislation.

“I think it does put them in a sticky spot because I think it forces them to address the fact that this legislation that they’ve introduced doesn’t actually accomplish for Ontarians,” Stiles said of her party’s motion.

The government voted down the opposition motion on Monday afternoon.

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