Niagara highway could be toll road

The Review (Niagara Falls) -- Sat 31 May 2003 - By: Kalvin Reid

ST. CATHARINES - The mid-peninsula highway will be a toll road, the Tory
party's election platform suggests.

The question of tolls on the highway has been raised, but never answered,
since the Tories announced two years ago they were moving ahead with the

But a pledge in The Road Ahead, the election platform the government hopes

will propel it to a third successive term, indicates it will be a toll road.

"It will definitely affect who uses it," said Jason Thorne, executive

director of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment, one of the groups
leading the opposition to the highway. "It is questionable how many trucks will jump off the QEW to take a longer route, and pay for the privilege of travelling a further distance."

The Tories' platform document says it will not impose tolls on any existing
roadway. But it does say: "Tolls will only be applied to new roads, and only where
there is a non-toll alternative."

Although the statement on tolls doesn't mention the mid-peninsula highway
by name, it fits the criteria: It will be a new road and the QEW is an
alternative route that does not have a toll.

"No decision has been made on that yet," said Chris Eby, a spokesman for
Erie-Lincoln MPP Tim Hudak. "The highway itself is seven or eight years
from being built. The focus now is on getting through the environmental
assessment process.

"When we get into the engineering and design of the road, then we will look
at financing options, but that is a decision for the government of the day."

Niagara region Chairwoman Debbie Zimmerman said the mid-peninsula highway

is needed to divert truck traffic from the QEW, but that adding tolls to
the mix may keep trucks off the route.

"We need to get the trucks off the QEW," she said. "I wouldn't want tolls

on the mid-peninsula corridor to prevent trucks from using the
mid-peninsula corridor."

But Zimmerman added it is unlikely the project would move forward unless it

was a toll road.

"We haven't seen new highways built in Ontario without tolls," she said.
"It is probably the only way the highway is going to get built."

Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey, a strong supporter of the highway,

rejects the idea of making the highway a toll road. He said the province already collects a gas tax for the purposes of road construction, and charging a toll for the same purpose is akin to double dipping.

"We have been listening regularly to the partners and stakeholders who will
be users of the mid-peninsula corridor when it is developed," he said. "The
strong response we are getting is no toll road."

The Liberal candidate in Erie-Lincoln for the next provincial election,

Badawey said he will fight to ensure it is a highway free of charges.
"This is just another example of government privatizing," he said. "They
did it with the 407 and they want to do it with the mid-peninsula corridor,
and it's unacceptable."


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