Belle Tolls: Think tank advocates P3s for PQ highway overhaul

MONTREAL — Public-private partnerships (P3s), financed by tolls, is the ideal way to complete a series of much-needed highway and bridge renewal projects in Quebec.

In a series of three Economic Notes published by the Montreal Economic Institute, economist Mathieu Laberge says this strategy could enable the Quebec government to save public funds in future reconstruction work on the Turcot interchange, the Metropolitan highway or, eventually, the Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge and tunnel.

“International experience shows that PPPs can help finance not only the construction but also the renewal of highways and other road infrastructure,” Mr. Laberge states.

A majority of people in Quebec now say they would
support tolls if it means an upgraded highways.

“Currently, government investment in roads is subject to the vagaries of political compromises between competing priorities involving various departments and more highly publicized needs. This works to the detriment of investments whose effects may be less apparent but will be felt over the longer term, such as maintaining the quality of the highway network,” he sates in the report.

Low investment levels in public road infrastructure has led to a continuous decline in the value of the expressway network, found in 2005 to have just 55 percent of its 1975 value, says the author.

P3s, Laberge continues, aims to share responsibilities and benefits between the private and public sectors and to impose tight discipline, with penalties and bonuses to promote compliance with timelines and to punish cost overruns.

Furthermore, the gradual establishment of permanent tolls could be considered as a way to finance all rebuilding work on the main highways without relying on government financing and without increasing the public debt. Most countries, he points out, apply the user-pay principle to finance their highway networks, in addition to general taxation.

A L├ęger Marketing poll published this week indicates that a majority of Quebecers would support a return of tolls if it meant a better highway system.

“Tolls represent the best means, because they link the amounts paid directly to road use, whereas licence and registration fees represent lump sums that guarantee unlimited access to the service. Tolls are also superior to fuel taxes because they can be modulated to bill different amounts based on the time of day, thereby helping alleviate traffic congestion. For all these reasons, electronic tolls are the way of the future,” says Laberge.

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