Ontario enters the fast lane to lower congestion

Standing at a podium at the COMPASS Transportation Management Centre Monday morning, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced details of a pilot project meant to alleviate congestion on the province’s highways.

In the summer of 2016, the QEW will become the first expressway to implement High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes both ways from Trafalgar Rd. in Oakville to Guelph Line in Burlington. This pilot project will allow single-occupancy vehicles to use the High-Occupancy Vehicle lane, which is meant for carpooling. Vehicle owners will be able to purchase a permit and pay a toll for its usage.

Vehicles with two or more occupants will still be able to use these lanes free of charge.

The information gathered through the pilot project — which could last for up to four years — will be used to plan the next phase of HOT lanes set to be implemented in 2021 on Highway 427.  It has yet to be decided how much drivers will have to pay to use these HOT lanes, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been suggestions.

The transportation minister’s announcement came a few days after a report was released by the Pembina Institute, a Toronto environmental think-tank, identifying traffic congestion in the GTA as a “top problem for the city and the region, a drain on the economy and commuters, and a challenge for policy makers.”

Their solution? Timing tolls with the completion of transit infrastructure.

The report suggests a 14 cent per kilometre toll during peak hours for the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and the Gardiner Expressway. Drivers occupying these roadways during non-peak hours would only be charged 10 cents per kilometre.In 2025, after the presumed completion of the SmartTrack, the toll would be increased to 21 cents per kilometre during peak hours.

The Transit Alliance has been a big proponent of tolling for the past five years. You could even say we were a fan before it was widely talked about in the media as a necessary step towards alleviating highway congestion. We have conducted studies that outline not only the need for tolling, but also the willingness of Torontonians to pay for highway use. The results may surprise you.

Our suggestion would be to incorporate one-way fares as opposed to attaching costs per kilometre. A simple $5 toll (which is similar to, or less than, the tolls in Chicago, Seattle, and New York) on the Gardiner Expressway would raise about $790 million per year. Wouldn’t it be great if that money was used for the relief line?

The city of Toronto is already undertaking a more detailed study on tolling and pricing of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to see the province’s commitment to tolling and alleviating congestion on Ontario’s highways. We can finally say this province is catching up with the rest of the world.

Now, all we need is a federal strategy to cap it all off.

More details regarding the pilot project on the QEW will be released in 2016.

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