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One year later, mixed feelings on Deh Cho Bridge

Some Yellowknife business owners say the Deh Cho bridge is good for business. Others say the toll fees are driving up the cost of living. And the N.W.T. government says revenue from toll fees is lower than expected.
Yellowknife business owners have mixed feelings about the toll fees they're paying to get their goods across the Deh Cho bridge. Some say it's good for business while others say it drives up the cost of living. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Yellowknife business owners have mixed feelings about the toll fees they're paying to get their goods across the Deh Cho bridge. Some say it's good for business while others say it drives up the cost of living.

Charles Corothers says since toll fees were introduced a year ago, his transportation costs have gone up big time. He's the owner of Corothers Home Hardware.

“Essentially for our business, we're probably looking at about an extra $60,000 to $80,000 a year.” Corothers says the extra cost has driven up consumer prices by three to four per cent.

But the toll fee is not a big issue for everyone.

Justin Nelson is the assistant manager for the Yellowknife Co-op. He says he doesn’t mind paying a toll fee eight times a week, now that he doesn’t have to stock up on fresh produce every spring and fall.

“It evened out the cost. It was very expensive to bring things over. You know, shuttling things across the Mackenzie,” Nelson says.

Earl Blacklock is with the Northwest Territories’ department of transportation. He says the toll fee has had a neutral effect on costs.

“Maybe the toll will hit some sectors a little bit more than others, but it will hit other sectors less and there will actually be savings.”

Commercial traffic lower than expected

So far, commercial traffic on the bridge has been lower than expected, resulting in 17 per cent less toll revenues than expected, but Blacklock is optimistic that could change.

“We'll need about five years of data before we know if our projections are accurate,” Blacklock says.

Toll fees are almost $300 for large semi-trucks. Smaller trucks pay about $75.

The government says it expected about $4 million annually from bridge tolls. That means they're coming up about $700,000 short so far. That’s many thousands fewer trucks than expected, and Blacklock can guess why.

“Truckers had plenty of warning there was going to be tolls on Dec.1, and we suspect they did the natural thing to avoid the tolls by stocking ahead of time."

Blacklock says they expect numbers to even out as the diamond mines and north slave communities restock, and as construction and production begin at the new diamond mine, Gahcho Kue.

The government will be paying its bills regardless of money from tolls, and the finance department says any shortfalls will mean less revenue for the territory.

The territorial government is paying for the bridge over 35 years, and the toll will be in effect for at least that long.

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