Call to end Hwy. 407 tolls in Durham adds Ajax

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Published April 15, 2024 at 4:26 pm

highway 407 price increase
Photo: Ken Lund

Another voice has joined the call to end tolls on Highway 407 through Durham Region.

The calls originated in Whitby earlier this year as the Region plans a significant widening of Winchester Road between Anderson Street as and Baldwin Street. The route is an important thoroughfare along Highway 7 just south of Brooklin.

As a result of the construction, Winchester Road will be reduced to one lane of traffic in one direction for two construction seasons. In February, Whiby Regional Councillor Rhonda Mulcahey said, “As you can imagine, we have some traffic woes ahead of us, and we’re really hoping that the province will listen to us and give us a hand.”

At the time Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner called the situation “far-reaching,” and noted his community would also feel the effect of the traffic backlog. “There is no question that we already face serious gridlock along Highway 7. We face serious gridlock on Taunton. And we have serious problems because of that. That negatively impacts our ability to be able to market when it comes to economic development and attracting businesses.”

About a month later, the Town of Whitby passed its own motion calling for the end of the tolls. The town said an imminent provincial moratorium on highway tolls would leave the Durham Region section of Highway 407 the only tolled route in the GTA. This would create “unfair economic impacts to Durham Region residents and businesses,” per the town.

Now, Ajax has also called on the province to remove the tolls, they noted however it was unlikely. In Council on April 15, Regional Councillor Marilyn Crawford said “If you believe in unicorns and rainbows it can happen, but I also think there’s nothing wrong with asking. I think if the community of Whitby and the Council of Whitby is asking the province then I want to support that also.”

Noting that Highway 401 is the busiest in North America, Council Rob Tyler-Morin backed the motion. He said it would make more fiscal sense for the province to take the hit on the tolls rather than spending more money on building a new highway.

Ontario has long pursued multiple highway projects including the controversial Highway 413 project from Halton Hills to Vaughan.

Ajax passed the motion to support Whitby’s request unanimously.

Highway History

While Highway 707 was initially planned in the 1950s it took until 1997 to open the route. By this time, the project’s price tag had ballooned and the province, then under Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris, introduced tolls to try to offset the project costs.

The tolls were at first designed to offset the cost of the highway’s construction. However, in 1999, the Harris government signed a 99-year lease of a large section of the highway to a group of Canadian and Spanish investors.

This group, now known as 407 ETR Concession Company Limited, now administers much of the highway. Tolls have steadily risen since the lease. Harris promised tolls would rise no more than 30 per cent, but by 2015 they had increased 200 per cent.

Ontario has removed tolls in Durham Region before. After years of rejecting opposition calls, mostly from Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, the current PC Doug Ford government removed tolls on Highway 412 in Whitby and Highway 418 in Clarington.

French’s call to end the 412 and 418 began in 2019 when the current legislature first sat in Queen’s Park. However, the government waited to remove to tolls until just prior to the 2022 Ontario election.

The government said the delay was the result of agreements signed under the previous Liberal Government. When asked why the removal took so long, Ford said, “some things don’t happen overnight.”

 

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