TORONTO—Ontario is taking a go-slow approach to one of its plans to ease traffic congestion, announcing a pilot project for a toll lane on a short stretch of the Queen Elizabeth Way between Oakville and Burlington.
Drivers who don’t have any passengers will be able to pay a toll to use the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the 16.5-km stretch of the QEW between Trafalgar Road and the Guelph Line that is meant for people who carpool.
The four-year pilot project on the QEW will start next summer, but Transportation minister Steven Del Duca said he won’t announce how much the toll is until next spring.
Ontario plans to follow a model similar to the approach taken in Utah, which charged about $50 a month during its HOT pilot project before moving to a fully-electronic toll system with variable rates, he added.
“I want to stress that doesn’t mean that I’m announcing that will be our price here in Ontario,” said Del Duca.
“We don’t know yet, and have more analysis to do over the coming months.”
The transportation minister said it would be “premature” for him to comment on the possible revenue the province will generate from the new highway toll “until we’ve landed on what the cost will be for motorists.”
The government will limit the number of permits that will be issued to drivers who want to buy their way into the QEW’s carpool lane during the pilot project.
“We haven’t landed on what the exact number of overall permits will be,” Del Duca noted.
“I anticipate that we’ll probably end up in the neighbourhood of roughly 1,000 permits in total, but that will be done in phases over time.”
An HOV and HOT lane will be created on the extension of Highway 427 from Highway 409 north when it opens in 2021, which will be fully electronic.
But the province is not looking at turning the carpool lane on Highway 417 in Ottawa into an HOT lane—at least not for now.
“We hope to build an HOT network here in the GTA over time,” said Del Duca.
“It’s always possible in the future that we’ll be looking at more options.”
Other HOV lanes, such as the one on Highway 404 in north Toronto, are “very well-utilized” and it doesn’t make sense to try and draw more cars without passengers into those carpool lanes, added Del Duca.
“It would effectively make those HOV and HOT counter-productive because it would be just as jam-packed [as the other traffic lanes],” he reasoned.
The Progressive Conservatives oppose adding tolls to highways that taxpayers already have paid for—and even slipped in a timely Drake reference.
“They’ve been boasting about their HOT-lane bling, but Ontario residents shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said PC transport critic Michael Harris.
“It may be the QEW today but we all know we’ll be seeing tolls on the 400 series highways,” he warned.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, say only the wealthy can afford to pay extra to ride alone in carpool lanes, calling them Lexus lanes.