New Brunswick could toll provincial highways

| Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The provincial minister of finance in New Brunswick says the government should remain open to the possibility of placing toll booths on provincial highways in an effort to balance the budget. It?s just one idea among many, but truckers and trucking companies that stand to be the hardest hit are already showing their opposition to an additional road tax.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said recently that it?s time to erase an $820-million deficit, and one way to do that could involve tolls on provincial highways. It?s just an idea, a spokesman said, but highway users are taking it seriously.

?The trucking industry doesn?t need any more taxes, and for roads, a toll is certainly a tax,? said Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada.

The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association has also issued a statement in opposition to the mere suggestion of tolls, which would hit their members hard.

New Brunswick has 18 border crossings with Maine and the province is a keystone for all land traffic in and out of the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Therefore, tolling incoming traffic would amount to a hefty tax on trucking and that could lead to higher prices for goods.

Provincial Ministry of Finance spokesman Marc Belliveau says tolls are just an idea being used to crunch some numbers at this point.

?What you?ve heard about, toll-wise, is one of many issues we?ve been looking at as we?re formulating our provincial budget and ways of collecting revenue for the March 22 budget,? Belliveau told Land Line.

?It?s very preliminary. They?re going to run some numbers about where they might put tolls if they would. ? We?re a long ways off from making a decision on them, I can tell you that.?

Leading into a pre-budget consultation on Wednesday, Feb. 9, New Brunswick Premier David Alward was quoted as saying he is not sold on the toll idea.

Alward recently worked out a deal with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end 42 years of toll collection on the Saint John Harbour Bridge on Route 1. That bridge carries 1,000 trucks per day. Bridge tolls will come to an end March 31.

?There?s a real anti-toll sentiment there,? said Ritchie, referencing a 1999 provincial election that saw voters squash a toll proposal for highways.

Tolls in New Brunswick would hold many motor carriers hostage, she adds.

?It?s not that there are a lot of options for commercial traffic.?

See related article:
New Brunswick bridge to be toll free by March 2011

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