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Alberta government introduces legislation to levy tolls on new roads, bridges

Click to play video: 'Alberta government paves the way for toll roads and bridges' Alberta government paves the way for toll roads and bridges
The Alberta government has introduced legislation that will allow for toll bridges and roads. The first project will be a bridge near La Crete, but that might not be the last one. Fletcher Kent has more – Nov 3, 2020

The Alberta government has introduced legislation that would bring in tolls on roads and bridges, but just for new projects.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver says the bill explicitly prohibits user fees on existing roads and bridges.

But he added Alberta is facing a severe financial crunch and needs to find creative ways to finance critical infrastructure.

Read more: Alberta government shows support for ultra-high-speed hyperloop between Edmonton and Calgary

“User-financed construction will strengthen economic growth and competitiveness at a time when Albertans need it most,” McIver told a news conference Tuesday prior to introducing the bill in the legislature.

“This means faster commutes and less congestion while unleashing economic potential through speeding up commerce.”

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McIver noted tolls are accepted ways to raise money in other jurisdictions, such as the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia and Highway 407 in Toronto.

The Highway 407 extension connecting to Highway 115 is expected to be complete by 2020. File / CHEX News

He said that under the bill the toll plan could only be used for new projects or expansions to existing ones. A toll could only go ahead if there remained a no-toll option for drivers not wanting to pay.

Revenue collected from the tolls would have to be used for the cost of the new road or bridge and the toll would disappear once the capital cost of the project was paid off.

The government could suspend the fee in case of emergencies, such as forest fires and other natural disasters.

There would also have to be local consultation before a project proceeded.

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Read more: Alberta boosts infrastructure spending by 40%, cuts business tax to bolster economy

McIver said if the bill passes, the government will start with a Highway 697 bridge over the Peace River near the hamlet of La Crete, 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, to replace an existing ferry.

“Alberta’s government had planned to replace the ferry with another ferry; however, local residents strongly advocated the construction of a bridge to replace the ferry as they expressed (concerns) the ferry is inconsistent and unreliable,” said McIver.

“The traffic counts simply do not support building a bridge over the Peace River with the traffic count on Highway 697.”

He said those who didn’t want to take the new bridge would still have the option of driving the long way around, which is an hour-and-a-half detour.

Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government is looking for ways to save money and increase revenue. It projected a $6.8-billion deficit this year, but that is expected to balloon to more than $24 billion due to economic havoc from COVID-19.

The question of toll roads came up in early 2019, prior to the election that saw the UCP defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and form a majority government.

Read more: Alberta premier warns United Conservatives could be considering toll roads

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Click to play video: 'During energy address, Notley says Kenney’s contemplating toll roads' During energy address, Notley says Kenney’s contemplating toll roads
During energy address, Notley says Kenney’s contemplating toll roads – Jan 17, 2019

Kenney at that time publicly mused about the possibility of tolls to pay for new roads and bridges for industrial users. Notley warned that Kenney was opening the door to user-pay for new and existing roads and bridges for everyday commuters, an accusation the government rejected.

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