Pump the brakes on toll roads talk

It’s hard to be both popular and productive when it comes to politics.

In an effort to solve the problems of traffic congestion and road maintenance costs, Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, chair of the environment committee, recently proposed studying tolls on municipal roads, just to see how such that option might work. He has received support from Centretown’s own councillor, Catherine McKenney, and should be applauded for his courage to put a tough option on the table.

Mayor Jim Watson, on the other hand, immediately denounced thesuggestion, claiming he has “no interest” in studying tolls. Such decisiveness on a divisive issue will surely endear him to most residents – it’s hard to imagine a world where paying to drive on local roads is hailed as a popular decision.

So now we have a classic conflict: an environmental force advocating uncomfortable change and an immovable mayoral object ducking the controversy.

Unfortunately for Watson and Chernushenko, they’re both equally wrong.

Watson can claim he is only doing what his residents would want him to do: striking down the toll menace before it gains any traction in council. 

And to that point, he’s probably right.

He can hide behind the “wasting tax dollars” defence, but when annual road maintenance fees already reach into the millions, $80,000 to study a potential fix starts to look like pennies.

In this circumstance, the non-toll option is quite literally the easy route. It denies the due process and compromise at the heart of politics. Faced with increasing traffic congestion and deteriorating roadways, Watson would rather bury his head in a pothole than take a look at a controversial option.

Jumping to conclusions about the nature of these tolls roads is harmful, as well. It’s not immediately clear how tolls would work on Ottawa’s municipal roads – something this proposed study would certainly bring to light. Informed decisions are the substance of productive policies, and such a study would be the kind of justification that city council needs to move ahead with a solution.

But if we might ask, Chernushenko, why now?

In the interest of an informed decision, would it not be better to study tolls as they relate to road congestion once the LRT and cycling infrastructure like the O’Connor bike lane have been completed? Pieces of this picture are still missing.

To move ahead with a study now, only for the results to become out-dated when this infrastructure is complete, would be asinine. A hard look at tolls needs to wait until all of the options are on the table. Otherwise, we may end up with a policy that solves nothing and satisfies no one – the standard political compromise.

We would advise both Watson and Chernushenko to pump their brakes on the matter of toll roads for the time being. Taking a deep breath and some time to really consider their options might lead to a truly productive decision.

If you carpool together, you two can talk it out while you’re sitting in traffic.