Traffic congestion is the biggest challenge facing the GTA and a depressing illustration of chronic political gridlock. But you’ll have a hard time getting a straight answer from politicians who prefer to kick the can down a long and winding road.
There’s a reason for the political inertia that has created a standstill on the roads: Most candidates lack the courage and candor to level with voters about the tens of billions of dollars required to bankroll our transportation needs.
At some point — and we’re long past that point — someone has to exercise political leadership by pointing out those contradictions and pointing people to the inevitable solution: Road pricing in the form of highway tolls, congestion charges, parking fees and gas surtaxes.
Remarkably, we’ve seen convergence in recent months from both ends of the political spectrum: Both the progressives at CivicAction (chaired by a former Progressive Conservative leader, John Tory), and the big business titans at the Toronto Board of Trade are calling — no, clamouring — for action to break the GTA logjam.
“I’m not going to pretend I have the answer, but I’m prepared to ask everybody in the GTA,” she mused.
That’s odd, considering The Big Move has been on the books for four years (while she was a senior cabinet minister), with an ambitious $ 40 billion blueprint to build the transit and road network needed for economic growth. When I persisted, Pupatello took a pass:
“I’m going to be honest and say, we’re gonna finally have this conversation — and we’re not gonna just skirt around the edges here, you know. We’re not gonna just hide behind the skirt.”
Sounds like a dodge from the supposed straight-shooter.
“We have got to use some of these tools,” she said, when I rattled off variations on the theme of road charges.
“None of it is a dirty word for me. We have got to be realistic with each other, and honest about what we want.”
Without money, The Big Move won’t materialize.
“We need to prepare the ground for this debate,” she said, citing the advocacy groups she has worked with. “I think it’s the next premier’s responsibility to pick up that discussion and make it real.”
• Gerard Kennedy, in third place, is anti-tolls. He blames downtown elites for causing congestion and suburban indigestion.
“If we’re going to create an elite that only travel on roads, that’s problematic,” he explained. “The idea of taxing the 905-ers, I know that can be attractive, but I am worried about a whole range of clever ideas that have disenfranchised seniors and other people.”
“Congestion charges? I mean, do we want to keep people out of the core? Maybe then we shouldn’t have built condominiums everywhere in the core . . . . Maybe we should have thought of that before we made this (density) as a bright kind of thing.”
• Charles Sousa was equally blunt: “People won’t go with the tolls. You need tolls on new roads. They won’t accept them on existing facilities.” Asked how he’d pay for The Big Move, he launched into a tortured digression about present-day “opportunity costs,” future “missed opportunities,” and other non sequiturs too tangled to convey here.
• Harinder Takhar, also a former transportation minister, wants to float “infrastructure bonds” and boasts he’ll “achieve efficiencies and provide better service on a cost neutral basis.” Sounds like those tempting furniture ads: drive now, pay later — and someone else will pick up the tab (or bond).
It’s a sad tale on tolls, but there is no avoiding it: By summer, the provincial transit agency Metrolinx will unveil funding proposals to bankroll The Big Move. The big idea needs big money, not just big talk.
Let’s not confuse public consultations with political calculus and pure cowardice. We need political will to go forward — or we’ll remain stuck in traffic, falling further and further behind.