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Toronto Toronto councillors suggest tolls for Gardiner Expressway

Heading down the off ramp from the eastbound Gardiner Expressway to the northbound lanes at the Spadina Ave. exit on May 19 2015. Talk continues on the future of the eastern portion of the elevated highway with some advocating for partial teardown and some suggesting it be left as is.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As Toronto city council prepares to vote on the future of the Gardiner, some councillors are floating the idea of using road tolls to pay for the aging expressway's repairs — an idea Mayor John Tory is against.

Next month, council will meet to decide on whether to tear down or re-build, with some modifications, the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street. And with Toronto Mayor John Tory pushing for the latter option (known as the "hybrid" approach), several members of the budget committee spoke Tuesday in support of imposing road tolls on the highway to help pay for the estimated $919-million project.

"I think the mayor's hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it," said Councillor James Pasternak, who argued that adding the nearly $1-billion Gardiner bill to Toronto residents' property taxes would be unfair.

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Instead, Mr. Pasternak has been in discussions with colleagues about asking for a staff report at next month's council on creating a toll for non-Toronto residents who use the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressway. Revenue from those tolls, he said, could go towards ongoing and future repairs to the highways.

Failing that, he said he would like to see operations of the two highways uploaded to Queen's Park, in the same way the QEW in Mississauga and Highway 404 north of Toronto are provincial highways.

Though road tolls are relatively rare in Canada, they are commonly used in the United States and around the world both as a traffic deterrent and revenue stream. London's congestion charge, introduced in 2003, has been credited with reducing congestion in the city's core by 10 per cent and generating £1.2-billion in its first 10 years. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, meanwhile, charges cars $14 to travel on the main bridges into Manhattan, and expects to raise over $1.5-billion from tolls in the region this year alone.

But if Mr. Pasternak does move a motion on Toronto road tolls, it will be over the mayor's objections. Mr. Tory's spokeswoman Amanda Galbraith said Tuesday that the mayor does not support tolls on the Gardiner.

The city would also have to ask for permission from the province, despite the fact that both the Gardiner and DVP are city-owned highways. Under the Ontario Municipal Act, cities cannot impose tolls on municipal highways without authorization from the province.

The idea of tolling the Gardiner — or even selling it off completely — was floated during the last term at City Hall but failed to pass at council. Former mayor Rob Ford was vehemently opposed to the idea.

And while Mr. Pasternak said he is only in favour of tolling non-residents of the city, others are also interested in expanding the charge for all highway-users.

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"If somebody comes from Peel or Durham and they ride the TTC, we don't charge them more," said Councillor John Campbell. "I'm a believer in a user-pays system," he said. "If you're driving on it, whether you're from Toronto or outside Toronto, I think you should by some means be paying for it."

Councillor Justin Di Ciano, meanwhile, said he's interested in the idea as a "congestion mediation tool," potentially encouraging more people to take transit or alternate routes.

"I think that a bunch of committee members are just kind of toying with the idea," he said. "It's going to be a massive spend to redo the Gardiner. So how do we pay for it? And how do we get more people travelling quicker to their destinations?"

This story corrects an early version that incorrectly stated the 404 highway is located in Vaughan

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