Aazhogan justifies price increase as residents buy up bridge cards

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Last week Aazhogan LP announced increases in the toll structure at the Fort Frances-International Falls bridge.

According to social media reactions, the residents of Fort Frances and International Falls are not impressed by the increase. The Times opened our inbox to readers’ opinions which are resoundingly negative.

One respondent wrote: “This is a hardship on many, as some of us work on the other side and/or have aging family members that we need to be with. A slight increase, I understand but this is ridiculous.”

With the cost of a two-axle vehicle jumping from $7 USD to $9 USD or $11 CAD. The cost of a 12-crossing card will go from $28.95 to $90 CAD. or to $72.00 USD from $22 USD.

Aazhogan is a partnership between BMI group and Rainy River First Nations, which purchased the bridge last year from Resolute.

In a response to residents emailing to voice their displeasure, Aazhogan asserts that the cost remains consistent with other international bridge crossings and pay for ongoing expenses required for running the bridge.

Bridge operating costs are about $2m according to an emailed response from Aazhogan. Some of the costs include maintaining the Canada Border Services Building (There is a requirement under Canadian law for owners of an international bridge to pay for upkeep on the building). They also pay for insurance and taxes to the Town of Fort Frances and Koochiching County. They also pay for snow clearing and sanding on the bridge as well as other repairs and maintenance of the bridge’s walkways and roadways.

Aazhogan also cites the pandemic closure as a reason for the needed increase.

“The bridge has also suffered drastic revenue reduction due to Covid, with traffic crossings down 85% year on year,” they wrote. “These traffic levels have yet to return to pre-Covid levels, with 2023 at 75% of 2019 crossings. Despite this, no Covid relief funding has been made available to the bridge.

Recent work on the bridge has included new lighting and work to improve the roadway will be undertaken soon as well.

“Other maintenance items that we are looking to address include resurfacing of the concrete apron on the Canadian side of the bridge,” Aazhogan says. “Removal of the rail bed that currently crosses the access to the bridge on the Canadian side and concrete walkway repairs, are planned with completion slated for the spring of 2024.”

While there are plans for a multimillion dollar restructuring of the US border facilities in International Falls, they do not see this as a potential issue at this time.

“Aazhogan’s long term plan for the bridge is to continue facilitating safe, reliable traffic across the Canada-US border at Fort Frances-International Falls,” they say. “Aazhogan is in open communication with the GSA (American Government Services Agency) as it relates to their Land Port of Entry upgrade project in International Falls and we do not anticipate there to be any immediate impact to the bridge due to this project.”

In reaction to the increase in price due to happen, residents on both sides of the border are eagerly snapping up stocks of bridge cards.

Safeway in Fort Frances has been limiting stocks of cards to five per person per visit and the cards are selling almost as fast as they can get them in. Last Friday, 1000 cards sold in about an hour and a half according to some safeway staff. At lunchtime Monday the line stretched from the customer service desk back to Starbucks another thousand cards were sold before too long.

Across the border things are going similarly. Anecdotally, all of the local outlets have been sold out and are also limiting sales.

Timing of card restocks have been unpredictable and social media seems to be the best way of finding out if cards have been restocked.