Globe columnist joins the toll road gang
In case you missed it, Globe and Mail business columnist Derek DeCloet has joined us in calling for toll roads — or privatization — when it comes to dealing with the infrastructure deficit on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway (see our post “Bring on the toll roads“, September 10-07). The following excerpt is from his Saturday column:
Toronto has a particular grievance in that it owns a very old and very expensive elevated highway, the Gardiner Expressway, the major route into downtown. Traffic figures suggest about 90,000 people use it to get into the city on an average day, with maybe another 30,000 using Lake Shore Boulevard that runs underneath it. Charge $3 a pop, you’re talking $130-million in annual revenue. Call it $90-million if you wish to be conservative.
Will the city do it? Uh, no, because people would just clog up other city streets to get downtown, says the mayor’s spokesman. Oh, really. Which ones?
Real cities find a way around these objections. London has a congestion charge. Singapore has had electronic tolls for nearly a decade. Oslo does it. Stockholm is doing it, too. In the U.S., you’ll find tolls all over the Interstate system.
You can put tolls on public roads or you can use them to entice private pension money – and there is a ton of it – to build new roads for you and fill that so-called “infrastructure deficit.” All it takes is some imagination. But attempts to bring in user-pay are inevitably politicized. Highway 407, which runs north of Toronto, is a great highway (it was privatized too cheaply by the previous provincial Tory government). Users like it; the number of daily trips is up 20 per cent in four years. Yet when the Liberals took office four years ago, the first thing they did was launch a legal fight against the 407’s owners to try to force them to roll back fees (it didn’t work). Before that, Bernard Lord got elected premier of New Brunswick in part on the strength of a promise to abolish tolls on a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway that had been built in a public-private partnership.
It’s fair to ask, if the public needs the roads, and no level of government wants to fund the roads, yet institutional investors with billions are willing to build the roads, why politicians won’t just let them. So Ottawa’s not “in the pothole business?” Fine. But somebody’s got to be. This is not a radical concept: Use private money, and make the user pay.
Welcome to the growing club, Derek. We’re delighted to have you on board.