November 21, 1996
Huge construction and maintenance costs may make tolls inevitable, not only on new highways but on those already in use, a Toronto conference has heard.
While this may not be popular with drivers, there is a side benefit, U.S. toll expert Robert Poole said yesterday.
Toll roads arc generally safer, he told the “Free-Flowing Roads” conference, organized by The Next City magazine.
“We find consistently that there are lower accident rates and better maintenance on roads that are tolled,” he said.
Poole is president of the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation and has advised governments on transportation and privatization policy.
The reasons for better safety records aren’t clear, he said, but might be attributed to fewer drunk drivers, less traffic or better maintained cars.
“We don’t really know the answer. We just know that when the studies are done carefully, that’s what (they show) – a higher level of safety.”
Toll roads have fewer potholes and are in “better general repair,” Poole said, but they remain a tough sell.
The typical motorist thinks tolls are a “rip-off by someone,” he said.
“People think those roads have already, been paid for. Well, they were paid for once, but paying for their ongoing maintenance and reconstruction is very expensive and it costs more than existing tax sources will make possible.”
As a result, he said, “we’re going to start needing to add tolls to, those roads that need major reconstruction.”
“The money is simply not there without a major increase in the taxes … already, going for highways,” he said.
“The choice is not really the status quo or tolls. The choice is higher taxes or tolls…” but people don’t yet understand that,”
Tolls may a possibility for Metro as it struggles to find money needed to repair hundreds of kilometres of deteriorating roads, said Metro Councillor Scott Cavalier (Scarborough Agincourt),
“Every year there is $38 million worth of projects we should be doing … that we don’t have the money to do,” he said in an interview at the conference.
“I’m out here looking at the alternatives for our public transportation system,” said Cavalier, a member of Metro’s transportation and planning committee.