There’s some relief on the way for Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area drivers who find themselves stuck in worsening gridlock, with the number of carpool lanes set to skyrocket over the next 25 years.

Thursday’s Ontario budget included some 59 kilometres of new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, to be ready over the next 10 years, in addition to the 83 km already on Highways 403, 404 and the Queen Elizabeth Way.

The new carpool lanes unveiled in the budget will be built:

  • Over a 22-km stretch of the 401 between the 410-403 interchange and Milton;
  • Over a 12-km stretch of the 404 between Highway 7 and Newmarket;
  • Over a 10-km stretch of the 410 between the 401 and Queen St. in Brampton;
  • Over a 15-km stretch of the 427 between the 409 and where it ends at Highway 7.

Eventually, within 25 years, the Liberals plan to have some 450 km of carpool lanes across Ontario highways.

During a pre-budget event on Wednesday, Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced that carpool lanes represent a potential new revenue stream for the government if they allow solo drivers to pay a toll to use them.

The Liberals did not include details in the budget about which sections could be open to drivers willing to pay, and were not prepared to reveal the cost of the carpool lane expansion.

Sousa told reporters Thursday that the government still has to review which stretches of highway would be best suited for conversion to toll lanes, but estimated that the move could bring between $250 million and $300 million annually into government coffers.

“We know it does an excellent job of easing gridlock and traffic,” Sousa said.

When asked whether the move to tolls would alienate NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, whose support is necessary to pass the budget but who is against new fees and taxes for drivers, Sousa noted that the tolls would be completely voluntary. Only solo drivers would pay to use carpool lanes.

“If we can offer (high-occupancy tolls) for somebody that wants to pay for it, all the better,” Sousa told reporters.

However, Horwath appeared to be against the idea when asked about it by reporters.

The NDP leader said she is “pretty concerned that the government’s one thing that is supposed to be about transit isn’t really about transit. What it does is discourages people from carpooling, and creates Lexus lanes in the province of Ontario.”

The 59 km of new carpool lanes announced in Thursday’s budget represent newly-constructed lanes because they are in regions where there is room to expand. However, down the road, lanes already open to all drivers could one day be converted to carpool lanes.

Carpool lane tolls are just one of the revenue tools expected in an upcoming report from Metrolinx, which will outline its funding proposals for its transit and infrastructure plan called “The Big Move.”

The 25-year plan, expected to cost about $50 billion, includes proposals for expanding the Yonge subway line into York Region, a downtown Toronto relief subway line and other transit infrastructure.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has said that funding for the plan must come from new revenue streams.