New Brunswick·Updated

Harbour Bridge tolls officially gone

Motorists no longer have to pay to cross the Saint John Harbour Bridge.

Tolls lifted

Word came late Friday afternoon that lights at the Saint John Harbour Bridge's 40-year-old toll booths have been switched permanently to green and motorists don't have to pay tolls.

A bill transferring ownership of the Saint John Harbour Bridge to the province was passed by the New Brunswick legislature and given royal assent by the lieutenant-governor.

However, people were still tossing money into coin baskets long after they didn't have to, and as the worst winter storm in over a month hit, bridge officials were trying to figure who should be plowing the structure — them or the province.

For a while, it looked like the tolls might never come off.

"We're going to see our taxes go up.  We're going to see the cost of living go up. We're going to see health care cut. We're going to see education cuts and everything else because of this deal for Harbour Bridge.  We're all going to be paying for this, Mr. Speaker," said Liberal Rick Doucet Friday.

Liberals like Doucet put up a spirited fight against the bridge deal well past noon, but suddenly dropped their opposiiton and allowed it to pass. 

Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas, who was in Saint John earlier in the day, was summoned to give royal assent and joked he avoided paying the toll on his trip back.

'A terrible deal': Boudreau

The opposition Liberals had been holding up the bill because they fear the province will be stuck with huge debt and maintenance costs when it takes over the bridge from the federal government.

But interim Liberal leader Victor Boudreau said he didn't want to let those concerns delay removal of the 50-cent tolls.

"Our issue is with the deal. It's not with the removal of the tolls," he said. "We will let them remove the tolls and concentrate on the deal moving forward.

"This is a terrible deal. Every day we get a chance to look at this deal in more depth, or ask more questions, the deal keeps getting worse and worse," said Boudreau.

The Liberals argue the government had the power to remove the tolls by now.

But the Harbour Bridge Authority has refused to do that until the bill transferring ownership becomes law. Officials said they didn't want to hand the bridge over to the province unless the authority's $22-million federal debt was eliminated.

Tolls were originally scheduled to be removed on Thursday.