NEW BRUNSWICK:Tolls Ended on Fredericton-Moncton TR
By Peter Samuel
Maritime Roads Development Corp (MRDC), the Dragados-led concessionaire has gotten a check for $20m for compensation, and for the remainder of its 30 year concession it will be paid by the provincial government on a per vehicle basis shadow tolls.
MRDC will install inductive loops in the pavement to count and classify vehicles at four points along the road, each close to the two constructed and two planned toll plazas. Vehicles will be classed as cars and larger vehicles with a shadow toll due MRDC of $4 and $12 for each full passage. This compares to about $6 and $18 real tolls in the concession agreement.
There is a cap on the amount of shadow toll revenues, but no downside guarantees. The absence of tolls will encourage traffic on the motorway which will save both distance (29km) and time as compared to existing alternative routes.
The provincial government admitted that it had no legal basis for negating the concession so it expressed its wish to get rid of tolls and asked MRDC for a proposal. MRDCs offer was largely adopted by the Lord government, as a way of fulfilling its election pledge.
The free-road conservatives gained office in the summer of 1999 just six months after the first toll plaza opened. A stretch of free road already built at the Moncton end was the first to be tolled under the franchise agreement negotiated with a Liberal govt. A strong Moncton-based Toll Buster group early gained the support of Bernard Lord, the 33-year old conservative leader, who surprised the province and himself by winning power.
Toll equipment including 4 toll plazas and toll collection costs were estimated to total $43m over the 30 years of the franchise.
MRDC has about half built the 195km (122mi) long 2x2-lane motorway which will have 22 interchanges. Construction cost at $420m is an amazingly low, especially given the rugged terrain and need for some long bridges. Total project cost is $600m with only $100m financed with toll revenue bonds, the remaining five-sixth being provincial supported lease-based bonds. (All $-numbers are rough US$ equivalents.)
Traffic projections were for an average $15m/year of tolls. Total cost to the province of dumping real tolls is estimated to be $180m. Tolling was estimated to have cost $43m in building 4 plazas and operating them during the concession.
Campaigning against the toll road last May, contender Bernard Lord was clearly angling for Moncton votes, but he played on two themes: (1) that other motorways in the province were free so it was an imposition on Moncton people to single them out for tolls (2) it is fairer for the cost of a new road to be shared by all New Brunswickers than to be paid for by users.
The press on balance was somewhat critical of the deal, emphasizing the high price to taxpayers. Opinion polls showed support for Lord, not so much for getting rid of tolls as such, but because he delivered on an election promise that many had thought he would evade.
COMMENT: This was only one-sixth a toll road and five-sixth a tax road. If it had been designed more closely to pay its way it would never have been built as a 4-lane divided motorway the whole distance. This large province has less than a million pop.
At each end, around Moncton and around Fredericton, the traffic warrants a 2x2-lane motorway but the long mid-section is only projected to carry 4k to 5k veh/day and should have been designed as a basic 2x1-lane road with occasional 3rd lane passing sections. And putting tolls on a tax-financed section at the Moncton end was politically fatal to the project. (MRDC 506 450 4700)