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Toll roads rolling into Alberta with lots of comparisons across the country

Last Updated Nov 6, 2020 at 10:54 am MST

CALGARY (CityNews) – Broke and looking for infrastructure money, the government of Alberta prepares to introduce toll roads.

While this is not a new concept in Canada, the question remains, do they work?

“There is a sense of basic fairness that users pay for the facilities that give them direct benefit,” said Matti Siemiatycki with the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.

The government said tolls are the only way to fund the $200 million Highway 697 bridge over the Peace River in northern Alberta to give residents an option to an existing ferry.

RELATED: Alberta government introduces legislation to levy tolls on new roads, bridges

“The premier promised no tolls on roads and bridges during the election but that turned out to be a broken promise,” said NDP MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, Rob Loyola.

Premier Jason Kenney responding to the criticism saying the UCP committed not to toll any existing infrastructure.

“There is no bridge over the Peace River in that area and the local constituents there have asked for that opportunity.”

“Tolls were really part of the origin of transposition in the origin of our cities,” said Siemiatycki. “We saw a shift towards public provision of roads in particular, and in large measure for political reasons the tolls came off.”

It’s what happens with them after they’re built where we see the biggest differences.

The Coquihalla highway in B.C. opened with tolls in 1986, however, in 2008 the provincial government permanently lifted them.

A similar plan was proposed in Ontario for the 407 toll road, but instead, it was privately leased for 99 years for $3.1 billion.

Tolls continue to rise, and the road is now worth an estimate $30 billion.

“The politics of tolls are as interesting as the economics in terms of how they’re implemented,” said Siemiatycki.

While the government of Alberta said tolls will only be used for new infrastructure, the transportation minister didn’t rule out or explain how tolls would work for improvements to roads like Deerfoot Trail, the main highway connecting Edmonton and Calgary.

“If there’s two lanes available right now to drive on without paying a toll there would have to be at least two lanes after where you wouldn’t have to pay a toll,” said Minister Ric McIver.

Essentially, we’ll cross that bridge when we go down that road.