Skip to main content

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord has eliminated the controversial tolls on a highway between Fredericton and Moncton, fulfilling a campaign promise that many observers believe vaulted him into office.

As tollbooths were being shut down yesterday, Mr. Lord told reporters the elimination of the toll collection system would reduce the cost of the highway project by $34.5-million, to $910.7-million.

"It is simply unfair to have tolls on one stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway and not on any other four-lane highway in the province," Mr. Lord said at a news conference where he delighted in checking off the last of 20 promises he made during last spring's election.

Moncton resident Brian Hicks was pleased to see an end to tolls that were costing him $700 a year in commuting.

Mr. Hicks, leader of the Tollbusters group that prodded Mr. Lord into pledging to remove the tolls two years ago and plagued former Liberal premier Camille Theriault throughout the campaign, said the fees are unnecessary.

"This was a big part of his [Mr. Lord's]1999 election platform and it should be no surprise what he did today," Mr. Hicks said in an interview. "But it is refreshing when somebody keeps a promise."

Truckers, who said the tolls cost them $27.50 a trip, also harshly criticized the user fees.

The removal of the tolls leaves the Cobequid Pass in Nova Scotia as the only toll highway in the Trans-Canada system, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative MP Bill Casey said.

Mr. Casey said the elimination of the charges would assist truckers and businesses moving goods from the United States and central Canada.

During last spring's provincial campaign, Mr. Theriault couldn't seem to shake the group opposed to the fees being charged for using the new 195-kilometre highway between Fredericton and Moncton.

The Liberal deal to have the road built by a private consortium and leased backed to the province over 30 years and financed partially through the collection of about $13-million a year in toll revenues became a lightning rod for voters.

During the campaign, then finance minister Edmond Blanchard said the province would have to pay as much as $225-million to get out of the highway construction scheme with Maritime Road Development Corp.

But Finance Minister Norman Betts said the Conservatives were careful to avoid opening up the entire construction contract and changed only the sections that dealt with tolls.

"If we had said we were going to cancel this agreement, we would have been faced with a Pearson Airport or a [EH101]helicopter deal scenario and we weren't prepared to go there and incur huge legal costs," Mr. Betts said.