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Corridor communities take stand on tolls

Whistler council approved a draft position paper from the Sea to Sky communities which fundamentally opposes tolls on provincial highways.

Whistler council approved a draft position paper from the Sea to Sky communities which fundamentally opposes tolls on provincial highways.

"This is the first time I can think of that we could get all the six or seven communities together to work with staff and agree," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly at Monday’s council meeting, praising the collective efforts to get the position paper drafted.

"Relations in the corridor have never been better and transportation has galvanized that."

Over the last month staff throughout the corridor have banded together to present a common stand against tolls on B.C. roads.

Paul Shakotko, manager of transportation with the municipality who presented the paper to council, said that a unified message from the corridor would hold more weight than separate community responses.

"I think if we send individual divided messages we will have lost the clout and that’s really what the point is here," he said after the meeting.

The position paper was a direct response to the Ministry of Transportation’s draft policy paper on options for financing the transportation system, which was released earlier this year.

That government policy paper proposes partnerships with the private sector, also known as P3s, and the possible implementation of tolls on the highways.

It said that the province needs alternative funding sources as a result of a huge provincial debt, and an increase in the population, tourism and trade traffic.

Tolls and P3s would help pay for the estimated $10 billion in costs associated with fixing B.C.’s transportation infrastructure.

But communities in the Sea to Sky have decided that tolls are not the answer. There are other options.

If money needs to be raised for transportation communities here say the government could impose a province-wide fuel tax.

This would serve the dual purpose of raising money and encouraging people to find alternate modes of transportation.

If a fuel tax isn’t the answer the province could raise money through an environmental tax or parking levies or land concessions/development.

Failing all these suggestions and the province goes through with tolls on roads, the community’s position is that there must be an alternate free route to any highway with tolls.

Shakotko calls the position paper an agreement in principle.

Staff in other Corridor communities has been taking the position paper to their respective councils.

"There may be other caveats that other communities want in there," he said.

For example at the Whistler council meeting Councillor Ken Melamed suggested that there might be a Greenhouse Gas Emissions policy within the paper.

Likewise councillor Stephanie Sloan suggested that there might be a free bus service for people using a road with tolls.

The position paper will be handed into the ministry by the end of the month.

Shakotko added that the paper does not address the specific concerns of the Sea to Sky Highway.

"It’s easy to draw the comparison to Highway 99 but it’s on tolls in general," he said.

He added that the teamwork between the communities on this issue has been outstanding.