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EDITORIAL: Pay your money and move on

If you lived just down the road from a tolled highway and had to use it regularly, imagine how much it would weigh on your mind – and on your week-to-week expenses.

The provincial government is being coy about the future of tolls on the Cobequid Pass portion of Highway 104. Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said this week that its unlikely all tolls would be removed, explaining that maintenance and capital costs would fall to Nova Scotia taxpayers with tolls entirely lifted.

Its been a bone of contention from the beginning. Although most came around to accept the need to twin the 45-kilometre stretch to bypass a notoriously deadly section of the Trans-Canada through the Wentworth Valley, the money collected from motorists has done the job. In recent years as the cost got closer and closer to being paid, people especially in Cumberland County called for an end to the toll booths.

At this point, the debt is expected to be paid by fiscal year 2019-20.

The MLA for Cumberland North, Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Smith McCrossin, echoed her constituents feelings this week in responding to the minister’s assessment. She said the Highway 104 Western Alignment Act states that tolls must be removed once the debt on the bonds issued to build the highway are paid off.

Its not hard to imagine the yearning for a toll-free highway in your backyard.

In Pictou County, with discussion in recent years about twinning Highway 104 from Sutherlands River to Antigonish – another stretch considered deadly – there had been a call for tolls if thats what it took. People were roughly split on the idea, those for saying, if thats what it takes, then lets get er done. As its turned out, that project will go ahead without tolls – motorists in this part of the province breathed a sigh of relief and taxpayers across the province will pick up the tab in the coming years.

Residents of Cumberland and Colchester counties would love to see their toll gone. Companies often made the point about how it affected their cost of doing business. It affected people directly and indirectly – a barrier, even if not that steep, for people coming to stay or play or passing through or just in for a quick visit.

As the only tolled section of highway in Nova Scotia, its reasonable to think people up that way might deem it a bit unfair.

There are other considerations where fairness is concerned. As the main route to get to much of the rest of Canada, you can bet that section of Highway 104 gets used by a lot of Nova Scotians at least occasionally, so it’s reasonable to think their taxes might help support it.

As for the future of the toll, the Liberal government has said it plans to remove the tolls for Nova Scotia motorists, but is pondering what to do about commercial trucking and out-of-province motorists.

This foretells an improvement, to be sure, but if the tab is paid, removing that barrier for business and visitors would be welcome.

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