Coming home early evening from the great northeast after the last little bit of the day’s snow flew, we found ourselves behind a plow team making its way south toward the 401. When the opportunity arose, we decided to give the 407 a whirl despite similar ETAs. Cash be damned! You only live once, as old people think the kids today say, neither of us could remember ever having driven the toll road before.
From its eastern entrance (along the provincial government owned section of the highway), the immediate experience was something rarely felt while driving anywhere in the GTA: a wide-open space, for some time, the only car on the road. Where the hell are we? What wormhole had we just traversed? It was dark which added to the wee hours in the morning sensation. A metropolis asleep and we were the lonely travelers making our way through it.
Except that it was about 6 p.m. on a Sunday, the day with the fewest hours of sunlight looming ahead of us. You knew to the south, traffic on the 401 would just have been freed up from its four lanes and jostling up to Toronto speeds and aggression. A million miles away it felt like from here as we put the car into cruise control and moseyed on our way, barely a care in the world.
Things picked up a little the closer we got to Toronto itself but it all felt very civilized and car-free until we hit our turnoff at the 404 and exit onto the 401West. Ah, yes. There it was. The crush. The contentiousness. The non-tolled drive from A to B.
By our estimation, the half-hour trip (or so) was going to cost just under $30. Worth it? For peace of mind, certainly. A rare extravagance. As a daily cost, times two, for a there-and-back? Probably, if you could afford it. Let the plebs fight it out in tooth-and-nail, bumper-to-bumper traffic while we eat cake sitting in our heated seats.
But hardly the congestion relief that provided the impetus for the 407’s build in the first place, judging by outcomes. An easy-peazy ride for those willing and able to pay while everyone else continues to grind it out on the other 400 series of highways. An inequity exacerbated by the sale of the original stretch of the 407 to a private ‘consortium’ (the term should give you shivers as it’s going to haunt us for decades to come in almost every facet of the region’s transportation systems) back in 1999 by the Mike Harris provincial government.
A deal so egregiously bad, selling for just roughly twice the cost of building it, that twenty years later, Doug Ford, now premier of the province, bemoaned the transaction. “I would have never sold it,” he said during this past year’s election campaign. Ford stands so opposed to the deal that he let the highway’s current owners walk away from about a billion dollars in penalties for a drop in volume on the route during the pandemic, a stretch of time where the company didn’t drop prices to entice what drivers there were to take the 407.
So ineffectual has the 407 been in relieving traffic congestion on the region’s highway network that Ford is ‘stuck’ widening parts of the 401 and building new highways, the 413 and the Bradford Bypass, tolling neither of them and being very cagey about the costs. All of which is offering up an outdated and debunked approach to dealing with traffic congestion at what will be astronomical costs when all is said and done. Meanwhile, a private consortium will get to chug along, raking in profits, hand over fist, until the end of this century. At least. Until another conservative premier decides to extend the sweetheart deal.
Yet still we operate under the rubric of sound conservative economic management. If nothing else, we argue, a conservative government will tend to our public finances as good stewards, delivering more bang for the buck and more cash in our pockets. This is the party, these are the political leaders, these neoconservative ideologues, who understand business, masters of efficiency, standing firm against government waste and special interests. They will relieve us of traffic congestion. They will build out public transit for the 22nd-century. They will bring about housing affordability with only a hyper-dependence on supplying housing stock.
For a generation now.
If nothing else, it’s worth the money for a drive along the boondoggle (a favourite anti-government, conservative word) that is the 407, just to witness the future as conservatives see it.