Opposition mounting to proposed tolls on Champlain II
Motorists crossing the future replacement Champlain Bridge will likely pay between $2.60 and $3.90 in order to recoup the $3 billion to $5 billion construction costs, numbers that don't sit well with some South Shore residents.
NDP MP Hoang Mai said that the toll will prove oppressive to many of his constituents, particularly those with lower incomes.
Mai believes that insufficient thought was put into the decision, which will be discussed at a Senate finance meeting next week, with final numbers expected in April 2015.
“It was done without research on the consequences on the other bridges and the people in the South Shore, we’ve been pushing for more numbers,” Mai told CTV Montreal Thursday. “There’s been a lot of secrecy and we’re asking the government to work with Quebec, the municipalities and the opposition to get to a solution that works.”
A significant number of motorists would likely reroute to other spans to dodge the toll, which could then raise pressure to put tolls on those bridges as well.
A scenario of tolls on all local spans is not one that pleases Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.
“I'm against tolls because if you have one there you will have to think about all the others. Instead of talking about 'let's have a toll booth there,' we should think about how we invest in collective transport,” said Coderre.
The local business community also believes that imposing tolls on all bridges would hurt the local bottom line.
“A belt of tolls on every bridge and every access to the island could be suffocating for the Montreal economy,” said Michel Leblanc; President of the Montreal Chamber Of Commerce. “That could be very detrimental, very dangerous, we should oppose that possibility.”
Leblanc wants more analysis with an open mind to considering other ways to raise the funds, such as a road usage tax which would measure how much a car owner travels and charge him based on that usage.
Some drivers interviewed by CTV Montreal said that a small toll of about $2 would be acceptable, as long as regular users were given a chance to pay less. Other motorists appeared resigned to feeling the financial hurt.
“I'm not very happy about it obviously but what can I do? I need to cross the bridge, sometimes twice a day so it's going to cost me a lot,” one woman told CTV Montreal.
Light rail still possible
The Parliamentary Budget Officer prepared the estimated cost of a trip over the bridge at Mai's request and the estimate determined that a cost of more than $4 would divert drivers to other bridges spanning the St. Lawrence.
In fact, any amount up to $9.10 per trip would maximize revenues, but any more expensive and 40 percent of drivers, about 65,000 vehicles, would go out of their way to avoid the added cost.
The provincial government is still debating whether or not to pay for a light rail line on the bridge, which is the preferred option for many Montreal-area politicians.
While a rail line would cost more initially, the long-term costs and the cost per passenger are much lower. Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron says a metro trip costs the STM $1.30, while a bus trip costs $3.10.