Williams clarifies Saint John bridge tolls comment

Transportation Minister Claude Williams says the provincial government will not consider putting tolls back on the Saint John Harbour Bridge, clarifying comments he made on Thursday.

A 50-cent toll on the Saint John Harbour Bridge was removed on April 1, 2011

Transportation Minister Claude Williams says the provincial government will not consider putting tolls back on the Saint John Harbour Bridge, clarifying comments he made on Thursday.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams said the provincial government is not considering the idea of putting tolls back on the Saint John Harbour Bridge.

The Harbour Bridge is undergoing $35 million worth of repairs to the surface and the addition of new lighting, a project that is expected to wrap up this fall.

When asked whether the Department of Transportation would look at reinstating bridge tolls to cover future costs, Williams said the idea was being discussed within the government.

But Williams clarified his comments on Friday and said he was speaking generally of highway tolls across the province.

"There are no consideration in reinstating the toll. In term of tolls in New Brunswick, as I've indicated, there are and has been discussion ongoing about looking at tolls on the highway in New Brunswick," he said on Friday.

The toll on the Harbour Bridge peaked at 50 cents before it was removed in April 2011.

Interview transcript

CBC: After the construction is completed and you look towards the next amount of maintenance that that bridge needs, is there any consideration to reinstalling the tolls?

Claude Williams: Well the toll issue has been on discussion with the government.

The question of putting back the tolls, there was two element of whether we have to go back to the people with either a referendum or at the next election.

But yes the tolls are still being discussed within government. And we certainly heard the toll issue when the minister of finance was meeting New Brunswickers in his pre-budget consultations.

I must tell you I did attend a few, and putting back the tolls in order to generate revenue for the province, the tolls as an element to raise revenue was certainly high on people's minds.

So certainly we did listen, the tolls, putting them back on, but we need to look at all aspects of the toll issue. We have got to be strategic before putting back on the tolls there still needs to be some discussion and consultation.

At the time, Williams said the fee was an irritant to local residents.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier David Alward hammered out a deal in November 2010 that saw the federal government contribute to repairing the aging bridge and forgive the Saint John Harbour Bridge Authority's outstanding federal debt.

"Removing tolls and helping rehabilitate the Saint John Harbour Bridge is another sign that the economy is our No. 1 priority, and another step forward toward a bright future for the people of Saint John and all New Brunswickers," Harper said in a 2010 statement.

Even after the deal was signed, there was a short delay in removing the tolls from the bridge.

The Opposition Liberals tried to hold up the bill that allowed for the tolls to be removed. At the time, the Liberals said they were concerned the provincial government would be stuck with a huge debt and maintenance costs for taking over the aging bridge.

The former Harbour Bridge Authority refused to stop collecting tolls until the law that transferred ownership of the bridge officially became law.

The bridge tolls had been a contentious political issue in the city.

In particular, Saint John Conservative MP Rodney Weston campaigned in the 2008 federal election to have the tolls removed.

The New Brunswick government is facing a $479-million deficit.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs hiked personal and corporate income taxes by $200 million in the 2013 budget.


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