As several cities across Ontario consider gambling revenues as a means to pare down ballooning infrastructure deficits, an associate dean at the University of Waterloo’s engineering school says road tolls would be the "best way" to pay for repairs to the province’s crumbling roads and bridges.
"Tolling the 401 and tolling other roadways is not only a good way to raise revenue for our infrastructure, but I think it’s actually the best way," Jeff Cassello, Associate Dean at the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Tuesday.
"I’ve done some research in the GTA, where people are really willing to pay for tolls if it improves the quality of their travel experience," he said. "To see that Toronto hasn’t moved in that direction is really pretty surprising to me."
On Monday, Premier Kathleen Wynne suggested new tolls or taxes could be introduced to pay for badly-needed upgrades and repairs to the province’s infrastructure.
While people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area may face road tolls or some other kind of levy to help fund public transit and ease road congestion, municipalities in other parts of the province can't afford to repair roads and bridges, said Wynne.
"We need to find a way to create dedicated revenue streams for roads and bridges, i.e. a fund that would allow us to continue to work with municipalities to make sure those infrastructure needs are met," she said.
Cassello said a dedicated infrastructure fund in Ontario, paid for through road tolls, could be a more efficient means of paying for roadways than the current system, which relies on gas tax.
"That tends to be a good system, but it also tends to be a little inefficient, some of the money goes up and then some of it comes back down to local governments," he said. "When we start tolling you can keep the money much more locally. You can keep it so that it stays in the areas in which the tolls are generated."
Cassello said at a time when many cash-strapped municipalities in the province are engaged in a divisive debate over whether casino gambling revenue should be used to pay for road and bridge repairs, tolling could change the tone of the discussion. "Absolutely, I think the casinos are a way for short-term revenue gain," he said.
"If someone is coming from outside the region to gamble at our casino, then really what we’re doing is taxing them to pay for our infrastructure and that to me doesn’t make a lot of sense."
City councillors in Kitchener and Waterloo have voted to hold public consultations on whether a casino would be welcome in those cities.
The vote comes after councillors in Woolwich decided 4-1 on March 5th to welcome a casino to their community in the hope that the estimated $3 to 4 million in annual revenue could help offset the township’s $60 million infrastructure deficit.