Ontario government to use toll roads to fund transit

TORONTO – Toll roads are coming to Ontario highways.

However, that’s about as much as we know about the Ontario government’s plan to fund its vision for expanded transit in the province – most notably in the congested Greater Toronto Area.

The project, dubbed The Big Move, was released Thursday in the 2013 Ontario budget.

The move is part of the Liberals’ efforts to raise $2-billion in new revenues to fund transit around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) in the coming decades.

Further details on other revenue tools will have to wait until a key report from Metrolinx, the provincial authority implementing the Big Move, is released on May 27.

Ahead of those recommendations, the government has announced it will begin to implement tolls across the region’s high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) to allow individual drivers to travel in the lane for a price.

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The price, the infrastructure to track the usage, and the means of enforcing the tolls however were not detailed inside the budget.

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They do say however that they could borrow ideas from regions like Florida, Texas and California.

The use of toll lanes would ease the “pressure” on property taxes, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said in his budget speech Thursday.

The government plans to build new HOV lanes on section of Highways 401, 404, 410 and 427 across the region.

The plans would effectively double the kilometres of HOV lanes in the province, Sousa said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath though has said she cannot support toll lanes.

“What it does is, discourage people from carpooling and creates Lexus lanes in the province of Ontario,” Horwath said Wednesday.

Sousa however tried to counter the NDP leader, claiming it would generate revenue and reduce congestion.

“I can’t see how the NDP would see that as something that wouldn’t support the needs of the region,” Sousa said.

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The budget fails to detail any other revenue tools the government would implement, but the 2013 Ontario budget does say any tool implemented should not “unfairly impact one type of commute or community over another.”

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TTC Chair Karen Stintz said Thursday she was glad to see the province is committed to moving forward with The Big Move but says high occupancy lanes may not be able to fund the project.

“The High occupancy lanes are pitched as a way to fund to the big move, I actually don’t think it’s a way to fund the big move but I do think it is a good way to manage congestion.”

Stintz added that the revenue from toll roads could be used in part to fund the project.

City of Toronto staff and the Toronto Board of Trade have already floated property tax, regional taxes and toll lanes – among others – as possible tools.

But those ideas have found critics among regional mayors in Hamilton and Mississauga who said their cities will not build Toronto’s transit.

The Ontario government is also proposing to increase service on the provincially-run transit service, GO Transit, by more than 50,000 people a day – a rise of over 20 per cent above current levels.

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