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Hwy. 407 offers look into future

MARKHAM, Ont. - As the newest kid on Ontario's highway block, the electronic toll-route Hwy. 407, offers a handy lens to see the province's new highway expansion plan - and how commercial vehicles mig...


MODEL ROUTE: Hwy. 407 may serve as the blueprint for future projects.
MODEL ROUTE: Hwy. 407 may serve as the blueprint for future projects.

MARKHAM, Ont. – As the newest kid on Ontario’s highway block, the electronic toll-route Hwy. 407, offers a handy lens to see the province’s new highway expansion plan – and how commercial vehicles might fit into that picture.

The toll road is run by 407 International Inc., a publicly traded company that bought the road from the province in May 1999 for $3.3 billion. By coincidence, 407 International issued its financial reports for its first full year as operator of the road just two days before the province unwrapped its infrastructure plan at the end of February: revenues were way up.

Part of the Harris government’s multi-year, multi-billion-dollar vision involves possibly extending the four-year old 407 to the east. The highway currently runs atop the Greater Toronto Area for 69 kilometres from Hwy. 48, or Markham Rd., in the east to where it connects to Hwy. 403 north of Oakville, in the west.

Built to take pressure off Hwy. 401, tolls are collected electronically, using transponders and cameras, there are no tollbooths and so no 407 International personnel to help users understand how it operates, says company spokesman Dale Albers.

That leads to some transport drivers thinking they can run the road toll-free.

“By law, commercial vehicles over 5 tonnes must have a valid, properly affixed transponder,” Albers explains. “If they don’t, by law, we capture their rear license plate (using cameras), and bill the registered owner of that plate,” he says, noting that the rear-plate of a rig under load is therefore on the trailer. “So you can see the problem, because the (tractor) may have an Ontario plate but the trailer might be an Arizona plate.”

The result is an angry Arizona shipper getting a bill for a highway its trailer was pulled across in another country. By law, it must pay the fare, or face a fine.

“That is a big misconception,” says Albers, “especially in the U.S.” American drivers, “think they don’t have to pay at all.”

Another confusion is the belief by some that Ontario’s trucking community is shouldering an unfair share of the price to operate the roadway. The Ontario Trucking Association approached 407 International on that issue.

Albers says those fears weren’t entirely unjustified, but were nonetheless misplaced. “That was the case for a while, because when the government owned the highway, they had agreements. But as the new owners, when (407 International) purchased the highway, all of those agreements were null and void.

“So it has taken us almost a year to renegotiate all those agreements with the states and the different provinces,” Albers explains, noting, “I believe there are still six or seven provinces that are still in negotiations.”

Be that as it may, the company spokesman says the highway is seeing an increase in commercial-vehicle traffic, although he declined to give exact numbers.

Although the company’s earnings report didn’t provide exact commercial-traffic figures either, it detailed that the road “attracted over 79 million trips in 2000,” of all types of vehicles, compared to 72 million in 1999.

The tolls are collected as a vehicle passes through “gantries,” or electronic receivers that pick up signals from the transponders.

The tolls are measured by the kilometre and are split between day rates (6 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and night rates, (11 p.m. to 6 a.m.). For “heavy-multiple vehicles,” or commercial rigs, day-use costs 33 cents/km. and night-use costs 18 cents/km.

Commercial accounts require a security deposit, ranging from $250 for up to ten transponders to $1,000 for more than 10 units. The account carries a $1-a-month fee and the transponders are leased for $1-a-month (transponders aren’t sold). On top of that, each transponder needs activation, at $10 a unit.

The company’s financial report shows it had a grand total of 419,743 transponders circulating at Dec. 31, compared to 346,371 a year earlier.

Albers attributed the increase in commercial traffic in part to safety. “The lanes are slightly wider than on the 401,” he says. n


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