Highway tolls could raise $60M for cash-strapped government

The provincial government wants the public to be aware of what impact any decision of implementing tolls will have on the province’s finances.

Liberal government presents three electronic toll options for the province, decision coming in Feb. 2 budget

Finance Minister Roger Melanson says the government could raise a significant amount of money with highway tolls. (CBC)

The New Brunswick government is considering three models for potential highway tolls as a way of wrestling down the provincial debt.

One option being floated is to set up toll booths at eight high–traffic locations on four–lane highways. 

Another would be toll booths at the entrances to the province that have four-lanes: Edmundston, Woodstock, St. Stephen and Aulac, and the final option is to put the booths near Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.

However, Finance Minister Roger Melanson says nothing has been decided yet but a decision will be made in time for the release of the budget on Feb. 2.

"Tolls are certainly an option. No tolls is also an option. As we go forward in wanting to bring a budget that identifies half a billion dollars, 500 million dollars, we've got to consider if tolls are an option for it or not," said Melanson.

He says tolls at the borders might violate inter-provincial agreements and treaties with the United States that require open trade.  

In a statement released on Wednesday, Health Minister Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for the strategic program review, said the idea of tolls was raised during those consultations.

"But there was disagreement as to where they should be located," he said.  

"We have looked at different models and each would have a different impact on drivers both local and visiting," Boudreau said in the statement.

Electronic toll booths bring more money

The government has said implementing electronic toll collection facilities will bring in more revenue with a lower cost than having staffed toll booths, and Melanson says this could make for a significant revenue stream.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau, in charge of the government's Strategic Program Review, said in a statement the government is looking at three models for setting up tolls. (CBC)

"Tolls potentially as an estimate could generate as much as $60 million dollars, but the level of traffic dictates what is the rate of the toll. More vehicle commutes, the less the rate can be," he said.

"Less vehicle commutes, the toll rates would be higher, because you have to get to a significant amount of money."

One option used by the government is based on 3 cents/km for cars and 12 cents/km for trucks.

This option would make a round-trip cost about $9 per car and $36 per truck to drive between Moncton and Saint John.

The cost of a trip between Moncton and Edmundston for a car would be about $24 and the cost for a truck would be $96."

Option 2 generates $43M

For option two, with booths at Edmundston, Woodstock, St. Stephen and Aulac, the government says $43 million could be generated from a round-trip toll of $10 per car and $40 per truck.

The third model would see electronic tolls placed around Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton, but the government says in its statement this model could disproportionately impact daily commuters in the province's three main urban centres.

Using average traffic volumes, a round-trip rate of $6.30 per car and $25.20 per truck would increase revenue by an estimated $60 million.

The government estimates it would cost $16 million to build eight electronic toll booths throughout the province and annual operations and maintenance costs are estimated at $4 million.

The introduction of highway tolls is only one initiative being explored. 

The government has already said it's considering an HST increase, changes to senior management in the civil service, reducing spending on health care, reducing spending on education and increasing corporate income tax.
The New Brunswick provincial government has released three models of options for collecting tolls on N.B. highways if implemented. (Government of New Brunswick)

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