Toronto

HOT lanes, derided as 'Lexus lanes,' inch ahead in Ontario

Ontario's transportation minister has announced that the province will be launching a high-occupancy toll lanes pilot project on Queen Elizabeth Parkway from Trafalgar Road to Guelph Line in Oakville, Ont., and Burlington Ont., in June 2016.

No details on pricing until next spring

Plans for brand new dedicated HOT lanes on Highway 427 were also announced. They will include electronic tolling from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road and the transportation minister says they'll open by 2021. (CBC)

Ontario is moving ahead with the next phase of its plan to bring high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to the province, unveiling a pilot project on the Queen Elizabeth Way from Trafalgar Road in Oakville to Guelph Line in Burlington that will be up and running by next June.

The pilot project will see the current high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) on the QEW converted into HOT lanes, which would allow motorists who don't have passengers in their vehicles to pay a fee to use HOV lanes, which were designed to encourage carpooling.

The QEW currently has one HOV lane running in both directions. Vehicles with two or more occupants will still be able to use the HOT lanes for free — single occupant drivers will just have the option of purchasing a permit to use the lanes as well.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, speaking at a news conference Monday morning in Toronto, said that information gathered from the pilot project will be used to inform long-term planning for future HOT lanes.

He had no details on HOT lane pricing yet. Those details will be coming in the spring, he said.

"It'd be premature for me to land on that when we haven't figured out what the cost will be for motorists," Del Duca told reporters.

There will be a limited number of permits issued for the pilot project, probably not all at once. That's so that the effects of the HOT lanes can be monitored as the project rolls out, he said.

New Highway 427 HOT lanes coming in 2016

Plans for brand new dedicated HOT lanes on Highway 427 were also announced. They will include electronic tolling from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road, which will be open by 2021.

Dynamic pricing is an option that the province is considering for those electronic polls. If it chooses to go ahead with that model, the government would be able to change the toll rates depending on what's happening in the HOT and regular lanes to help traffic flow.

The province estimates that when the Highway 427 extension opens, there will be 36 million vehicles carpooling each year. The province also estimates approximately 5 million single occupancy vehicles will pay a fee to use the HOT lanes.

Del Duca said that the province has studied how HOT lanes are used in the 13 jurisdictions currently using them, including U.S. cities like Minneapolis, Seattle and Atlanta. 

"They have been effective in managing congestion by giving people options and incentives to change the way that they commute," said De Duca.

The two opposition parties at Queen's Park have already gone on record denouncing the plan.

"We shouldn't be taxing existing roadways," said Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, have linked the HOT lanes with the name of a high-end automaker, calling them 'Lexus lanes' — and something that only the wealthiest of motorists would be able to afford.

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