Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Toll prices to jump slightly--for now

Tolls for local commuters crossing the international bridge here will go up five percent effective Oct. 1, the International Bridge and Terminal Company and M.D.&W. Railway announced today. But another hike is likely down the road if a new Canada customs facility is built here, the companies said. “If that project proceeds, and the companies are required to pay for it, a toll increase should be expected,” stated a two-page ad that appears in today’s edition of the Times. For local commuters, so-called swipe cards will be sold starting July 1 at a cost $10 (U.S.) for 12 round trips. The new rate is the equivalent of a two-cent (U.S.) increase per trip. For others crossing the bridge here, the basic toll for cars and pickups will be $3 (U.S.), the equivalent of $4.50 (Cdn.) at current exchange rates--an increase of $1.75 (Cdn.) The other rates also have jumped. All tolls will be collected from vehicles travelling northbound only at the American end of the bridge when the increase takes effective, with the Canadian toll booth to close Oct. 1. The American booth is scheduled to open July 13. The swipe cards will be available at Safeway here, as well as at Stop & Shop, Super One, and Super Valu in International Falls. Bridge tickets no longer will be sold at the toll booth on the Canadian side effective July 1 although they will continue to be sold at Safeway until Sept. 1. They won’t be accepted after Sept. 30. Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said this morning public pressure has paid off, keeping the local commuter fares reasonable. “The hue and cry has been listened to,” he said. “I applaud the people who grabbed the placards and hollered.” But, he added, he understands the companies’ need to run their business and expects other increases to be added in increments over the next few years. “By not having any increases since 1985, they probably erred,” the mayor remarked. “I think the people can be assured that increments will be coming on a regular basis.” Another increase doesn’t sit well with Fort Frances resident Cathy Richards, who helped organize last Wednesday’s protest rally against toll hikes at the Civic Centre here. “There is going to be one around the corner,” she predicted. “We were expecting a giant one and they’re going to come up with a small increase and they’re going to look good. “But they’re going to be preparing for a big increase. “The building’s going to go ahead and we’re going to pay for that building, which is absolutely absurd,” she argued. In the two-page ad, the companies compared the local rates with tolls charged at a number of other major international crossings, citing the one here currently has the lowest commuter rates. But the companies would not disclose whether the bridge has profited from the tolls. “The owner of the bridge does not publicly disclose financial results for individual operations, including the international bridge,” the ad reads. “It is accurate to report, however, that profitability of the bridge varies year to year.” The ad also states that the costs of the bridge’s expansion to four lanes in 1980 were bonded for and are still being paid. Meanwhile, both Mayor Witherspoon and International Falls Mayor had agreed to pursue the feasibility of a new bridge spanning Rainy River here regardless of the new toll rates. “[The hike is] better than all the rumours,” said Mayor Murray. “But I talked to [Mayor Witherspoon] and we said no matter what the decision is that comes out, we’ll sit down and talk about it.” The two plan to meet after the long weekend along with Minnesota state rep Irv Anderson.

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