Bring on the toll roads
Over the next few hours, tens of thousands of cars and trucks will travel south on Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway and east on the Gardiner Expressway. The traffic jams will begin in perhaps 20 minutes, continuing for three hours. Before the start again soon thereafter the other way.
In New York City, they’ll experience similar slowdowns at the Triborough Bridge.
The difference? Folks entering NYC will pay something like $4.50 to cross the river. In the GTA, not a penny will be asked and none offered.
Imagine two individuals going to Toronto Island on a Saturday, one parks their car in North York and takes public transit, the other drives down the DVP. Depending upon the lot, the public transit user will have numerous cost-recovery events along the way. There’s the parking in North York. There’s the subway fare. Then there’s the cost of the ferry to the Island. At three different stages, the commuter had to part with cash to pay for the municipal services. The fellow that drove all the way can pay $1 at the Green P by the Hummingbird Centre and only have to shell out for the ferry.
I once asked a politician where he stood on toll roads, and he said that he didn’t like taxpayers paying for something twice. But that isn’t the point. The DVP and Gardiner are sorely in need of improvements; on Friday, August 30th at 6 a.m., a 40 pound piece of “shotcrete” fell onto Lakeshore Blvd between heavily-travelled Yonge and Jarvis. It hit a guardrail, fortunately, and not someone walking to their job at the Toronto Star Building or LCBO HQ.
The shotcrete in question was sprayed on 15 years ago to keep the rebar from rotting. Someone’s idea of a fix at the time.
Do you ever ask yourself why airport patrons are asked to pay improvement fees, yet the daily car commuters of Aurora, Thornhill, Markham, Mississauga, Oakville, et al are not. Or the fellows trucking down gravel, drywall or paving stone to the site of their most recent reno job?
The notion that they’ve already paid is ludicrous; we’ve already paid for the subway system but it isn’t free to daily users. Toronto taxpayers alone shoulder the burden for maintenance, policing and upkeep of the two main traffic arteries. The massive water trucks that drive down the DVP, cleaning the dirt tracked in from King City have a “Metro Roads” logo on them for a reason. We can’t afford new trucks post-amalgamation. Or even a paint job. And no one from King is helping to defray the cost.
The commercial and property tax bases of Mississauga and Aurora are lower than Toronto for a number of reasons, including this. Throwing up our Toronto hands isn’t a solution.
Here’s a simple idea: let’s do what the Provincial government did with the 407 and sell the DVP and Gardiner. I am certain that SNC Lavalin, for example, will be pleased to pay us $2 billion, $4 billion, maybe $8 billion for a 25 year contract to manage these two routes. At the end of the contract, ownership will revert to the City of Toronto. Just like SNC is currently doing in New Brunswick.
If you take the subway (and bus) to Sherway Gardens you have to pay
$2.50 $2.75 each way; why is there no municipal charge when you take your car? And the subway trek is better for the environment.
Now is a wonderful time to pull the trigger. The City of Toronto is in a budget crisis. Would taypayers rather pay for garbage to be weighed, or to travel on certain roads? Whatever we have to pay will be swamped by what the residents of Mississauga, Newmarket, etc. will pay.
Moreover, the “risk free” rates are as low as they’ve been for decades, which means that SNC, Macquarie, CPPIB, OMERS or the like can afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more for the same roadway. Just because the underlying interest rates are so low. We’d even agent the debt deal for free, saving another hundred million on top. A few billion extra in the municipal budget adds a lot of police officers and opens more than a few skating rinks. Or, it allows property taxes to fall back towards where they belong. Ours are up 30%+ over two years, and that was after Premier McGunity put a freeze on.
And if isn’t for revenue reasons, than think of the safety. Deaths in the USA and Quebec are fresh in our minds. The highway infrastructure of the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t designed to last for generations. Technologies have improved. Methods have changed. The current system is literally crashing down on our heads.
Toronto isn’t New York City, but we can learn from their tolls. We have no choice.