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Tunnel toll is thing of the past

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

You're sitting in the parking lot that doubles as the approach to the antiquated George Massey Tunnel and when you finally inch to the front of the line and get through the poorly-illuminated tube, you have to pay a toll for the privilege.

Sound absurd, doesn't it? Don't they only toll new crossings like the Golden Ears Bridge, not ones that are more than a half-century old? That's generally the case, but in a region that's both cash strapped and transportation challenged, it appears nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

It's no secret that road and transit improvements are prohibitively expensive, so much so they haven't kept pace with a burgeoning region. The trouble, obviously, is finding the money to pay for these mega projects, so politicians and planners are now looking under every rock, and apparently under every river, in search of new revenue streams.

With varying degrees of push back on everything from property and gas taxes to fare hikes, it's not surprising that tolling existing infrastructure is rearing its ugly head again.

The theory behind tolls - to have those who actually put a strain on the road network contribute directly to its development - makes sense, but there are some pretty big hurdles, both philosophical and financial, to overcome this time around.

Firstly, it's one thing to make drivers pay to use something new, but it's quite another to charge for the right to drive on aging, often outdated highways and water crossings that were paid off long ago. That's not really a toll as much as it is another tax.

Yes, I recognize that a toll is also a form of tax, but at least it typically pays for a specific project; the way it's looking now is that money would be collected at choke points throughout the region but wouldn't necessarily provide relief at said bottlenecks.

Which brings us to the next hurdle: Where's the money going? Homeowners south of the Fraser River haven't been too keen to pay increased property taxes to fund a rapid transit line to Coquitlam, so if a tunnel toll is going to the same place, it's a non-starter too.

Build us a new crossing and we'd happily help pay for it. OK, so not all of us would be overjoyed to fork out a couple of bucks every time we use it, but at least we could see the justification for such a toll.

Tolling a 50-year-old tunnel that is the source of much frustration, well, that's a whole other story.