FORT ERIE, Ont. – Come Jan. 1, 2018, it will cost 75 cents more to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada.
And to make your New Year’s celebration that much merrier, you will lose your 10 percent E-ZPass discount, too.
The Peace Bridge Authority unanimously authorized the increase Friday, emphasizing that the new $3.75 automobile toll remains the lowest on the northern border and will match the price of Niagara County crossings. The additional revenue will help finance the international span’s $185 million rehabilitation project over the next few years.
The “reasonable” increase, according to Authority Chairman Sam Hoyt, is necessary for the deck replacement program that is already underway.
And that deck replacement will result in the wintertime closure of one lane beginning Nov. 15.
“We will have upon completion of this very ambitious project, almost a new bridge,” Hoyt said. “We’re asking our customers to help finance a project with a life span of at least 75 years because we can’t continue operating with the existing deck. It must be done.”
Tolls are collected one way, and that will continue, Authority General Manager Ron Rienas said.
“We only collect tolls in Canada entering Canada,” he said. “There is no toll entering the U.S. Hence, the new $3.75 toll to be implemented Jan. 1, 2018, is $1.87 per crossing.”
The last toll increase was in April 2007. The new increase will apply only to passenger vehicles and not trucks. Rienas said trucks will be exempted for now in order to prevent migration to other crossings at a time when some congestion is likely to result from closing one lane during the deck replacement project.
Trucks account for 70 percent of the authority’s toll revenue, Rienas said, and an increase for trucks will not be addressed until much of the deck is completed, probably in 2019.
Rienas also stressed that Peace Bridge tolls pay for constructing and maintaining plaza and Customs facilities on both sides, and that tolls constitute the bulk of authority revenue because no state or federal funds are involved. The entire $185 million capital plan will be self-funded, he said.
The higher toll will also allow the authority to convince lenders that enough money will flow into its coffers to pay for borrowing costs. Finance Manager Karen Costa said ratings agencies gauge the “willingness” of agencies such as the Peace Bridge Authority to raise tolls when necessary as part of the borrowing process.
“Rating agencies view it as a big positive,” she said. “It is necessary and appropriate at this time and gives us this additional positive with the rating agencies.”
The authority decided to end its 10 percent discount for use of E-ZPass, Costa said, because of its cost and failure to grow in use as originally projected. Vehicles using the electronic toll paying method have increased only 4 percent over the past 10 years to about 35 percent of total traffic. It also costs the authority about $500,000 per year in revenue.
“The E-ZPass discount was set up as a way to give commuters a break just to get to work,” she said. “Now it really has become a premium service so you don’t have to wait in line.”