Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are eyeing road tolls in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes as part of a traffic management plan to break the crippling gridlock around Toronto.
The Tories are also championing synchronized traffic lights, fluctuating speed limits on expressways and having the authorities clear minor traffic accidents out of the way faster.
PC Greater Toronto Area transportation critic Doug Holyday said he favours adding HOV lanes to area roads “where they’re appropriate.” These lanes would be free for cars with multiple people and for buses, allowing them to bypass traffic congestion. Single-occupancy vehicles would have to pay a toll to use them.
Mr. Holyday pointed to the Don Valley Parkway as one possible location for a new HOV lane.
“There was a proposal before to add an additional lane up and down on the Don Valley, make it HOV, make it free for people with multi-passengers and buses. But if anybody wanted to use that, they could pay a toll,” he said. “That could be put up through private sources. That’s something that we certainly would like to explore.”
Earlier this year, the Liberals signalled in the provincial budget that they will be allowing solo drivers to use at least some of the province’s HOV lanes for a fee.
The PC plan, however, goes further to outline several technologies aimed at speeding up traffic flow. One is to synchronize traffic lights, allowing drivers who travel around the speed limit to go for long stretches without hitting a red light. Two major arterial streets in Hamilton currently operate this way, but the concept has not been used extensively elsewhere in the province.
Another idea, borrowed from Germany, would see speed limits changed in real time on expressways, depending on traffic conditions, to space out vehicles and avoid bottlenecks.
The Tories would also set a half-hour target for minor traffic collisions to be cleared off the road.
PC Leader Tim Hudak said the long-term solution is still to build more public transit, but that these traffic-control measures would provide relief in the interim.
“It does take time to build subways to expand highways. There are things government can do today that are practical and doable to help make that daily commute less of a torture,” Mr. Hudak said. “This means improving the quality of life for individuals. It also means we can help bring more business to our province.”
It was not clear in Mr. Hudak’s plan exactly which technologies would be deployed in which places or what they would cost. But he said the price tag would be far lower than the cost of more transit construction.
The New Democrats attacked the Tories for backing the idea of allowing people to pay extra to take a faster lane. They invoked the image of Highway 407, a toll road north of Toronto that a Progressive Conservative government leased to a private consortium for what critics say was a fraction of its value.
“The Hudak Conservatives say they want to plow ahead with more corporate tax giveaways, but hit drivers with new road tolls for private highways. Anyone who was stuck paying the bills for the 407 can tell you that’s a bad idea,” NDP MPP Rosario Marchese said in a statement.
Transportation Minister Glen Murray, meanwhile, said he was “skeptical the PCs have seen the light in transit financing,” pointing out that Mr. Holyday’s support for HOV tolls appears at odds with Mr. Hudak’s opposition to new revenue-raising measures to pay for transit.