UCP to allow toll roads and bridges

By Catherine Griwkowsky November 4, 2020

New roads and bridges across the province will be authorized to carry a toll.

That’s according to Bill 43, the Financing Alberta’s Strategic Transportation Act, a.k.a. the FAST Act, which was introduced by Transportation Minister Ric McIver Tuesday.

Before a new project is deemed toll-worthy, the municipality where it’s located must put in a request and the government will have to consult with stakeholders. Tolls can’t be added to existing roads or bridges, and there must always be a non-toll option for Albertans to get from A to B.

“If you never want to pay a toll in your life, you don’t have to,” McIver told reporters.

The minister said the legislation was spurred by a request for a toll bridge to replace the aging La Crete Ferry.

The minister offered a replacement ferry, but in July, Mackenzie County and the La Crete Chamber of Commerce said they wanted a bridge — a project that was beyond the current capital plans.

The Highway 697 bridge over the Peace River is expected to cost $200 million.

NDP MLA Rod Loyola accused the UCP of blackmailing municipalities to agree to tolls so their projects can get to the front of the line.

“This is almost like blackmail,” said Loyola. “McIver says a project he couldn’t justify building can jump to the front of the queue if the community submits to tolling. This sends a clear message to municipalities across Alberta that their critical economic projects will drop down the priority list unless they submit to tolls.”

Toll revenues won’t be funnelled into general revenue; instead they must only be used to cover the capital costs of the project, per the legislation. Once the initial capital cost of the La Crete bridge is paid off, McIver said the toll will be lifted similar to the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia.

Tolls could also be suspended during emergencies, such as forest fires, and waived for emergency vehicles.

Toll rates will be set on a project-by-project basis.

Bill clarifies UCP’s murky 2019 campaign promise
During last year’s general election campaign, the UCP platform pledged to use alternative financing for infrastructure developments. The party also promised a transparent list of criteria for infrastructure priorities, predictable funding, and adequate maintenance under an Alberta Infrastructure Act.

When asked about how user fees to build requested roads and bridges would impact such a list, McIver told reporters he could not comment on the Alberta Infrastructure Act because the legislation does not yet exist.

Premier Jason Kenney repeatedly hinted at user fees in 2018 and 2019. NDP Leader Rachel Notley sounded the alarm during the campaign and, since then, has warned tolls would harm commercial vehicle drivers, such as taxi drivers, and increase daily expenses for motorists.

Last year, UCP spokesperson Christine Myatt accused the NDP of “fearmongering” and said the user-pay idea would be utilized for industrial infrastructure, not public projects.