Private-sector tunnels? Why not.
Commercial developments atop the Gardiner Expressway? Great idea.
Tolls on existing city roads? Not a chance.
That’s what Councillor Doug Ford envisions for the future of Toronto’s transportation network.
“I don’t think people want road tolls,” said Mr. Ford, the mayor’s brother and closest adviser. “We shouldn’t force tolls on anyone.”
He was responding to a Toronto Board of Trade report that urged governments in the GTA to look at imposing road tolls if they want to pay for the infrastructure improvements needed to alleviate the continent’s worst commute times.
The report foresees a bleak economic future for the Golden Horseshoe unless various municipal governments can help Queen’s Park scrape together the $50-billion needed for Metrolinx’s Big Move regional transportation plan, designed to build up the GTA’s infrastructure in preparation for the 50 per cent population growth anticipated by 2031.
So far, just one-fifth of that funding has been secured, and the Board of Trade doesn’t see governments being able to pony up the rest any time soon unless they explore an array of new financing options, including road tolls, gas taxes and parking surcharges.
They can forget the tolls on public roads, at least if Mr. Ford has any say in the matter.
“It’s not on the table,” he said.
But tolls on private roads are another matter. He explained with a creative example: a private-sector tunnel beneath the Gardiner that charges $5 a trip, similar to the 407.
“If we have a firm anywhere in the world that wants to come and tunnel underneath the Gardiner all the way downtown, God bless them,” said Mr. Ford. “If you’re asking would I pay five dollars to get downtown quicker and not knock off 14 bicycle riders on the way down Queen Street, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Even more appealing to Mr. Ford is the idea of adding to levels beneath the Gardiner: one for trains, one for toll traffic and another for regular traffic. “And then let’s develop on top of the Gardiner and that would pay for itself.”
Despite suggesting 16 financing options for the GTA’s ailing transportation network, the Board of Trade report did not anticipate Mr. Ford’s suggestion, but it does advise the province to explore more public-private partnerships in expanding transportation options.
“Even if [governments]bend down escalating employee and health care costs – as our report recommends – they still don’t have the money to pay for the Metrolinx plan,” said Carol Wilding, President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade.
Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and York Region Chairman and CEO Bill Fisch joined Ms. Wilding to release the report at the board’s downtown office on Tuesday morning.
They pointed out that Toronto’s current infrastructure cannot accommodate the 100,000 people moving into the Toronto region every year. Already the local economy is losing an estimated $6-billion to lengthy commute times, which are the worst in North America, according to the report.
Among the other financing ideas the board floated: a regional sales tax, infrastructure bonds, employer payroll taxes and full-cost recovery transit fares.
“What’s important is that all the tools will need to be used in one form or another,” said Mr. Fisch. “When you add them all up you get close to the $40-billion we need. We appreciate that if people want the infrastructure, someone has to pay for it.”