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Arctic tolls defeated – for now

YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T. - It appears trucking companies will be successful in fighting off a proposed toll system that would've raised freight rates substantially for those running the Northwest Territori...


YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T. – It appears trucking companies will be successful in fighting off a proposed toll system that would’ve raised freight rates substantially for those running the Northwest Territories.

The flawed toll system, considered a possible option as the Territories look for ways to generate millions needed to fix northern highways, was shot down by the trucking industry – as well as residents.

As a result, the Governance and Economic Development Committee has recommended to scrap the idea altogether.

John Johanson, president of the Northwest Territories Motor Transport Association (NWTMTA), says freight rates would have gone up between 30 and 50 per cent if the tolls were implemented. However, he commends the committee for listening to the concerns of his association and carrying them forward to the legislature.

Ray Anderson, president of NWTMTA carrier member, Mid-Arctic Transportation Co., agrees the toll would have hurt northern fleets such as his.

“It would be very difficult to price,” says Anderson. “There would certainly be cases of having $3,000 (per trip) added and freight rates would have to increase by that amount.”

To further complicate the matter, rather than placing traditional toll booths on highways, the government had planned to enforce “zone tolls,” making it even more difficult for fleets to fairly pass on the cost to their customers.

“It was very difficult to administer,” says Anderson. “The difficulty for the carrier would be how to apply them because if you keep going from jurisdiction to jurisdiction … we would have extreme difficulty knowing, going into a community, whether the toll would apply or not.”

Like Johanson, Anderson says that the government committee that examined the issue should be commended for listening to the concerns of trucking fleets.

“We’ve got a fairly understanding government in the Northwest Territories,” says Anderson.

Floyd Roland, MLA for Inuvik Boot Lake and chairman of the governance and economic development committee, says the final decision to kill the tolls now lies with Cabinet.

“The committee has reported to the legislative assembly and we’ve recommended that it not proceed,” says Roland. “It’s sort of in the hands of the Cabinet.”

If Cabinet approves the committee’s recommendation and scraps the idea, the challenge now lies in finding other ways to generate the necessary funding for roads.

“The development that’s happened here has put an increased stress on our infrastructure, on the main highways coming to the Northwest Territories and because our budgets were drastically reduced in the capital end of things, that significantly affected our Department of Transportation,” says Roland. “We’ve had to try to maintain (highways) with what dollars were left and with the increased pressure on the system, we’re not able to do that.”

So far, calls to the Federal government for help have gone unanswered, despite the fact their method of distributing fuel tax revenue is partly what put the region in this position in the first place.

Because fuel tax revenues are distributed on a per capita basis, the N.W.T. receives substantially less than other provinces.

“When this program was initially transferred to the Northwest Territories years ago, it was not properly funded to begin with, so we’ve always been trying to play catch-up,” says Roland.

Since it’s looking more and more like the N.W.T. will have to come up with the cash on its own, other options are currently being examined. One of those options is to cash in on the development that has placed the additional stress on the infrastructure to begin with.

The NWTMTA is doing its part to find a solution, and is working closely with the government to decide who should pay.

“We’re setting up a panel to discuss these issues with the government and seeking alternative funding methods and targeting development, so we’re pretty encouraged by that approach,” says Anderson.

Roland says the government is now studying ways, “to capture some of that increased development that’s happening and use that to help with our road infrastructure.”

That means there will likely be a slew of meetings over the next while to find a solution that benefits everyone.

“One option is to sit down with industry itself and government and stakeholders and say, ‘What can we put in place that would be more acceptable for business as well as for residents?'” says Roland. “We all agree that things need to be looked at, there is a need for additional cash flow.”


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