Toll trouble ahead
New Brunswick proposals could cost P.E.I. truckers half a million dollars a year
A proposed highway toll at New Brunswick exit points would create a huge transportation increase for Island food shippers who say it should be challenged by this province.
The tolls could be delivered in New Brunswick’s Feb. 2 budget, and if a $40 truck rate is applied, it could cost the Island agricultural and transportation industries at least $500,000 a year.
“It will definitely hurt our people on the farm and in the transportation sector,’’ said Bear River potato farmer Kevin MacIsaac, who is the chairman of the United Potato Growers of Canada. “I know they have budget problems, but this is going to hurt. There is only one main route to get our goods off this Island.”
The New Brunswick government is exploring highway tolls at various exit points as a way to deal with a massive $600 million debt. The tolls, depending on which of the three proposed plans being reviewed is accepted, could generate $40 to $60 million a year for the province.
An estimated 10,000 truckloads of P.E.I. potatoes travel through New Brunswick every year for export markets in Ontario and New England — and that doesn’t include trucks carrying livestock and other goods.
“We’re already behind the eight ball on the costs of transporting goods off the Island,” said Conservative Leader Jamie Fox at the legislative agriculture standing committee Friday morning. “This only adds to the bottom line and increases costs.”
The tolls would be aimed at “choke” stations like border crossings at Holton and St. Stephen and access into Quebec. A toll could also be applied to major highway systems throughout the province, and cars could get dinged $10.
Almost all of P.E.I.’s exports must be trucked through New Brunswick to other parts of North America, and Fox wants P.E.I. to fight the proposal.
Agriculture Minister Alan McIsaac said he wasn’t aware of the costs, but says the toll option comes as no surprise.
“I’m not surprised and personally I don’t blame them,’’ he said prior to an address at the annual meeting of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture Friday. “They are looking at all possibilities to deal with their $600 million debt, and it will affect us for sure and be more costly to get goods to market.”
However, McIsaac said the New Brunswick highway system is now likely the finest in Canada and shippers can get their goods to market a lot more quickly than in the past when a singlelane highway meandered through the centre of the province.
“I’m sure most of our truckers are pleased with the new highway system and I’d like to see the New Brunswick government fix that last run to the Confederation Bridge,” said the minister. “As for tolls, it’s something we will have to addresss.”
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, also at the federation meeting in Charlottetown, said he was concerned with additional costs facing Island operations trying to export goods but said he could not interfere with provincial jurisdictions.
“I expect I will be hearing a lot more about it in the days ahead, but I really don’t want to comment on an issue that is a provincial matter.”
These are the proposed road toll routes and rates from the New Brunswick government’s program review website.