State sympathetic to road toll fury

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New Transport Minister Jon Georg Dale summoned all local mayors in the Stavanger area to an emergency meeting on Monday, to address an uproar among motorists against more and higher road tolls from October 1. He’s open to changes in the new “toll ring” around the area, but local mayors weren’t entirely agreeable.

Jon Georg Dale of the Progress Party just took over as state government transport minister, and already faces a major dispute over road tolls. As agriculture minister, Dale had a reputation for finding solutions, and he’s clearly seeking one now. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet

Dale, who just took over his new post last week, made it clear that the state won’t demand an October 1st opening of the 38 new toll plazas set to charge NOK 44. He also was open to changes in the new toll system, given the outcry from local residents who’ve been loudly protesting the looming road tolls for weeks.

A recent public opinion poll shows that fully 70 percent of residents of the area known as Nord-Jæren oppose the new road tolls and the manner in which tolls will be charged. Some families fear the new and higher tolls will cost as much as NOK 40,000 per year (nearly USD 5,000). The hotly disputed new toll plazas will be located from Sandnes in the south to Stavanger and Randaberg in the north and Sola, Risavika and Hafrsfjord in the west.

Dale also made it clear that the state government must be assured that the road toll system is anchored within the local population. All the recent protests have indicated it’s not, and protests are spreading to Oslo. He noted that the local municipalities have broad freedom to set up the road toll system themselves, but there must be a balance between revenues and expenses. The state will accept a postponement of new toll levels until the package is renegotiated, as long as all parties agree, Dale said, adding that there’s no demand from the state that tolls must be highest during the commuter rush hour periods.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that apparently came as good news to Sandnes Mayor Stanley Wirak of the Labour Party, which otherwise is in opposition to the state’s conservative government coalition. Wirak has sought to remove the extra commuter rush-hour tolls and has proposed postponing toll plaza openings until January 1.

Officials of all four municipalities and Rogaland County must agree, however, and that’s not certain. Randaberg Mayor Kristine Enger, also from the Labour Party, supported Wirak but County Mayor Solveig Ege Tengesdal of the Christian Democrats party opposes postponement. Nor will the mayors of Stavanger (Christine Sagen Helgø) and Sola (Ole Ueland), both from the Conservatives, postpone the plazas’ opening day. Negotiations are likely to continue, however, to avoid another public revolt in October.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund