City council appears split over just how it should address the issue of a new toll booth for the Seaway International Bridge.
While much of city council appears in support of further attempts to get the Seaway International Bridge Corporation to reconsider placing a toll booth on this side of the St. Lawrence River - thereby forcing anyone crossing south to Cornwall Island to pay a $3.25 toll - there appears to be a few chinks in the armour.
Councillors Glen Grant and Andre Rivette spoke favourably of the bridge corporation's decision and said if motorists wish to use the bridge, regardless of their destination, they should be prepared to pay the toll.
“I firmly believe it’s a user pay issue and should be done,” said Rivette.
Grant said taxpayers are footing the bill regardless of the toll booth's location.
“I’m 100 per cent behind the decision to locate the toll booth,” he said. “If we don’t pay for it, it’ll come from federal coffers, which is our taxes anyway.”
The issue continues to percolate at city hall, and more fuel was added to the fire Monday night when Rik Saaltink, the general manager of the Seaway International Bridge Corporation, gave councillors an update on the status of new low-level bridge being built in Cornwall.
Mayor Bob Kilger maintained a position he took when this issue began months ago, suggesting it makes little sense for those heading from the city to Cornwall Island to pay a toll.
But Saaltink said the system is designed to generate revenue to offset the cost of operating and maintaining bridge facilities.
“We have a user-pay system,” he said. “Whether someone is a part of the system or uses both bridges, we have no way of differentiating or separating the types of users.”
The corporation is mandated to be self-sustaining, and moving the booth to the U.S. to avoid charging Canada-to-Canada travelers would result in major cash shortfalls.
“The directors have selected the canal as the best location and the best for our sustainable future,” said Saaltink.
The new toll plaza is expected to be built practically underneath the current bridge on canal lands, and Saaltink clarified earlier reports that the building would infringe on the city’s snow dump land, and noted it would be established in between the canal bridge and new span, just west of where the current structure stands.
Coun. Gerald Samson said he’s less concerned about the location than on the price of the toll, suggesting it should be decreased because the new bridge will require less maintenance.
“The bridge tolls 50 years ago were $1 a crossing,” replied Saaltink. “Today they’re $3.25. We’ve done a very diligent job of keeping the cost of the crossing as affordable as we can."
Saaltink said roughly $157 million has been invested in the dual-bridge crossing in the last few years, including a recoating of the south span — paid by the U.S. congress — and the construction of the new north bridge.
Coun. Bernadette Clement said she hopes council, and the community at large, will be more involved in ongoing discussions over both the toll booth relocation and point-of-entry challenges.
“We’re not part of that process,” she said. “We feel left out of the loop.”