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How come the only people who like Hwy 407 are the people who actually use it?

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

I have to say a few words today about Highway 407, which is hated by just about everybody except the people who actually use it and love it.

The latest salvo was published the other day in the Toronto Star by Bill Gillies, who used to be press secretary for ex-NDP Leader Ed Broadbent.

Ever since the highway opened, it’s been one thing or another. In the beginning, some people didn’t think it was safe and blamed Mike Harris for it except that Bob Rae built it.

Mr. Rae had the highway built as a toll road to take the pressure off Highway401 and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Please remember that. It’s important.

Right from the start, nobody liked the tolls except the people who liked the idea of paying for convenience. Newspaper editorials and radio commentators decried them. The volume increased when the government of the day (and this isn’t about politics, folks; every government since – provincial and federal – has done things that had you questioning their sanity) sold it, leased it – whatever – to a private consortium that as of today has the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board as the majority shareholder, controlling more than 50 per cent of the stock.

That’s correct. We, the people, in a roundabout sort of way, now own the 407 and our pensions are benefitting, as a result.

Let me tell you why I like the 407.

I can go from the middle of Mississauga, where I live, to Highway 404/DVP in about 30 minutes. Maybe faster. I whizz right along because, while there is a lot of traffic (except on Saturdays, for some reason), there are six lanes (minimum) going in each direction. It is convenience that I am willing to pay for. If I am not in that much of a hurry, or I don’t feel like spending the money, I have two alternatives to get to the 404/DVP junction – Highway 401 and Highway 7, which runs parallel to the 407, hence the designation 407. A lot of people forget about Highway 7, for some reason.

As I drive along the 407, I always – and I want to emphasize the word always – see maintenance trucks and personnel out fixing guardrails or just generally sweeping up. When was the last time you saw one of those on a so-called public highway? If somebody breaks down (mechanical issue, flat tire, out of gas), a 407-designated truck is often there lending assistance before the police or CAA arrive. Most important: they add lanes all the time to handle the increase in traffic. I see this and I know I am getting value for money.

I love the tolls – for the reasons outlined above. But I love them for another reason: if too many vehicles start using the 407, thus clogging it up, they increase the tolls in order to thin things out. The point of the 407 is that it is not another 401. It is a highway of convenience that will cost money to use and if you don’t want to pay for that convenience, you don’t have to use it. And don’t say that because it was built with public money that you have the right to drive on it and not pay a toll. The subway in Toronto was built with public money and I have to pay every time I use it.

I get a large charge out of people who act surprised because they don’t pay their 407 bill and then find out they can’t renew their licence or their plates until they do. Question: why didn’t they pay the bill in the first place? They knew it was a toll road when they used it.

I got two tickets in the last two years for parking on the street in front of my own house because a stupid bylaw says I can’t park on any street in Mississauga for more than two hours. But I paid the tickets because, although the law is stupid, I broke it and if I didn’t pay those tickets, guess what would happen when I next went to the Service Ontario kiosk?

Mr. Gillies wrote a nice column and you can read it here. But he misses the point. If you make the 407 more affordable so that more people can use it, then we would have three highways clogged around Toronto instead of the two we have now. So let’s just forget about the 407 and argue about something really worthwhile, such as why Ontario isn’t building more new highways to handle the ever-increasing number of cars and trucks..

A guy wrote a letter to the editor of the Star recently and suggested everybody use the 407 and then not pay the bill and have their licences suspended and then everybody would drive around without licences and it would be chaos. I read that and, after picking myself up off the floor because I just about killed myself laughing, came to two conclusions:

One, I was a university student during the 1960s when protests and anarchy really meant something and a professor said to me, after I handed in an essay typed on 8X14 paper instead of the standard 8X11, “Mr. McDonald, there are more important things to protest than the size of paper you have to use to write a term paper,” and I thought of her when I read that letter about the 407.

Second, the 407 opened in 1997 and it is now 2019 and we are on the home stretch to 2020 and it is time to move on. Particularly when you think of five words in particular in the quote in the previous paragraph: there are more important things.

norrismcdonald@rogers.com

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