Tolls can work for the Champlain Bridge

…but we can’t let the federal government manage this.


Cry me a river.

Radio-Canada has unearthed a federal government-commissioned study that suggests a $2.50 toll on the replacement Champlain Bridge could lead 30,000 drivers a day to use other bridges over the St. Lawrence.

(The federal budget officer’s own study on the issue, released this morning, suggested a toll of anywhere from $1.40 to $9, a range wide enough to drive a train through.)

If the first study is right, and a South Shore commuter would rather join long traffic line-ups on the other bridges than pay the same amount I do to ride the metro (10-fare pass, $25.50), then I say fuck ’em. The new bridge is going to cost $5-billion and I see no reason why taxpayers should pick up the entire tab.

We are already picking up the hefty price tag for massive highway repairs and replacements. The Turcot interchange alone will cost $3.7-billion, the equivalent of the entire operating budget of the Société du transport de Montréal for three years!

It’s ironic that the federal NDP and the Liberals are wringing their hands over the study, saying that tolls will increase pollution on the island as vehicles idle on the bridges. They seem to be forgetting that the best way to cut pollution is not to reduce the idling of vehicles, but to keep them idle.

We have to stop thinking the solution to traffic woes is to make it easier to drive into the city. Traffic downtown is already saturated on the best of days. If we’re going to spend public funds to improve commuting to the island, giving drivers another free ride is not the way to do it — unless the free ride is on public transit.

If the Quebec government is really concerned about reducing traffic congestion, it needs to prioritize light-rail public transit on the bridge, which it has so far refused to do.

And making it free to use the train makes much more sense than making it free to drive your car.


Rather than fighting tolls, Montreal-area municipalities should be fighting to ensure our regional transit authority has a strong say in setting those tolls. If left to Ottawa, the bridge could become a $9-per-trip cash cow where revenue optimization takes precedence over all else, including any impact on neighbouring bridges.

Instead, tolls can be used to create incentives and disincentives aimed at reducing single-occupant vehicle traffic and boosting more ecological forms of transportation, including hybrid and electric vehicles. If the federal study cited above turns out to be correct (big assumption, apparently), then tolls could even be adjusted downward to reduce the diversion to other structures. Tolls can also be used to engineer other desired results, such as rewarding drivers for off-peak travel to reduce rush-hour congestion.

The bridge needs to be part of a coordinated approach to regional transportation, which it will never be if toll rates are left in the hands of the federal government alone.

By insisting that the bridge be toll-free, the all-or-nothing stance from Montreal-area officials is excluding them from participating in the much more important issue of how user fees can help engineer changes in off-island commuter travel that reduce both pollution and congestion in the streets of Montreal.


Speaking of pollution, don’t forget Sunday’s People’s Climate March, taking place in New York, Paris, London and dozens of other cities around the globe, including Montreal.

The protest, billed as the largest environmental rally in history, is taking place as 125 world leaders gather in New York to discuss climate change at the invitation of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Our Prime Minister, Stephen “not the science guy” Harper, has decided he won’t be attending, which is fine, because we already know he’s a major part of the problem and will never be part of the solution.

But you and I can do our part by raising our voices on Sunday, letting the world know that we want real action on greenhouse gas reduction from our leaders before it’s too late to stop an environmental and economic catastrophe.

The Montreal march starts Sunday at 1 p.m. at Parc Lafontaine.  ■


For the climate change doubters and deniers out there, here’s a light reading list for you:

Everything you need to know about climate change – interactive

Did global warming stop?

United Nations Climate Change

Slate Exclusive: Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.