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Bridge owners explain toll fee increase

By Randy Thoms Oct 18, 2023 | 6:59 AM

International Bridge, May 2022. Image: Randy Thoms/Acadia Broadcasting

The owners of the International Bridge are offering a further explanation for a planned toll increase next month.

The increase has resulted in area residents using social media to express their outrage over the increases, especially with the multi-cross bridge cards that go up over 200 per cent.

In an interview with 93.1 The Border, President of Aazhogan and Rainy River First Nations Chief Marcel Medicine-Horton says the decision did not come lightly, but the increase was necessary.

“Unfortunately, crossing numbers right now are down. Operational costs, like everything else, are up. The toll revenue does not cover the bridge cost right now,” says Medicine-Horton.

Medicine-Horton says it is costing $2 million a year to operate the bridge.

This includes the maintenance and operating costs for the Canada Border Services Agency, legislated expenses under the International Bridges and Tunnels Act.

“In addition to the operating costs, we also have a staff count of approximately 13 people, including contractors. We also have engineering inspections and reports. We also have operating costs for snow removal and sanding, as well as any repair maintenance to the bridge, the walkways, anywhere situated around Canada Customs,” says Medicine-Horton.

Medicine-Horton says understands the concerns of the public.

“I completely understand the additional pressure that this puts on our families. However, the simple reality is that without this increase, we are unable to continue to operate the bridge in a safe and reliable manner. We have no revenue other than the toll structure that comes into play here with our bridge ownership,” says Medicine-Horton.

He does have one regret – not providing enough information to the public in advance of last week’s announcement.

“I’d like to extend an apology to our district and to our Treaty Three area. The rollout of this increase – I should have been more on it with the education document that came out to notify the district of our intentions to increase the tolls. I wholeheartedly have to apologize for not bringing that forward in a more timely manner.”

Medicine-Horton notes there have been improvements to the bridge since they acquired it eighteen months ago.

New bridge lighting was recently installed. There are plans to remove the rails beds, repair the sidewalk and resurface the approach to the bridge on the Canadian side.

Medicine-Horton insists the bridge is structurally sound.

“We’re following the maintenance plan developed by our current engineer to ensure that all the safety and regulatory matters remain compliant with our bridge operations.”

Meantime, area residents have been snapping up bridge cards in advance of the November 1 price change.

Medicine-Horton says all will be honoured, and users will not be required to pay the difference when the price changes.

He says there are plans to place another 20,000 cards up for sale and will keep replenishing them as quickly as possible.