TORONTO—Ontario motorists will know by the end of the year exactly where the Liberal government intends to establish high-occupancy toll lanes and what the fees will be for using them.
The so-called HOT lanes will allow motorists without passengers to pay to use High-Occupancy-Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which were designed to encourage carpooling.
The plan is to create HOT lanes only where there area existing HOV lanes, which are free for any driver with at least one passenger, but HOV and toll lanes could also be created on any new or expanded highways.
“On the provincial highway network, we will not be taking out general purpose lanes for the HOT’s,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said Nov. 2.
The government will create HOV lanes when it expands Highway 401 in the Cambridge area, but hasn’t yet determined if that stretch will also get HOT lanes.
Del Duca wants to use lessons learned from the temporary HOV lanes set up on Toronto-area highways last summer for the Pan Am Games to develop the new HOT-lane plan.
He downplayed police reports showing accidents during the Games on Toronto-area highways with HOV lanes jumped 73 per cent compared with the same July-August period in each of the previous four years.
“HOV lanes don’t cause accidents,” said Del Duca, blaming the spike in collisions on “motorists who aren’t paying attention to the conditions of the road.”
The Progressive Conservatives said adding tolls to existing highways is a bad idea, and accused the Liberals of being too quick to consider new fees and taxes to solve their problems.
“Frankly, we shouldn’t be taxing existing roadways,” said PC Leader Patrick Brown. “People have paid for those roads through their taxes, and that shouldn’t be an option that the government looks at.”
The New Democrats branded HOT lanes with the name of a high-end carmaker, and said only the wealthiest motorists can afford to pay extra to drive in a lane meant for people who carpool.
“The Lexus lanes are not something I think is the right way to go,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “The people of this province have been clear that they are not looking favourably on having their roads tolled.”
A report released Nov. 2 by Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a coalition of economists, endorsed the idea of toll roads and “congestion fees” to help cities and provinces deal with traffic problems.
“Converting existing carpool lanes into HOT lanes or building new HOT-lane capacity on the provincially owned 400-series of highways could be a practical approach for reducing congestion in the broader area,” concluded the report.
Del Duca said the province was willing to work with any municipality that wants to add tolls to existing roads under their jurisdiction, such as Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
“I haven’t had a municipality come to me and ask the question,” said Del Duca. “My focus is the provincial highway network, and that’s what I’m doing.”