The government of Ontario is getting back into the toll highway business, announcing it will own the planned expansion of the privately run Highway 407.

In a surprise move yesterday, Transportation Minister Jim Bradley revealed that the extension of the pay-for-use highway from Brock Road in Pickering to Highways 35 and 115 in Clarington would be owned and operated by the government.

“Clearly, the public agrees that the province of Ontario should own roads in the province of Ontario,” Bradley told reporters, noting motorists have been angered by the rising tolls on the private 407 ETR. “The province will control the tolling on the remainder of the highway.”

But Bradley had few details on how much it would cost and whether 407 users travelling from the privately run section would have to pay an additional toll when they enter the provincially operated stretch, expected to open in 2013.

The government expects the project will generate 24,000 construction jobs and highway revenues will pay for it.

News that the Liberals will impose their own tolls on what will be a publicly owned highway is a U-turn for Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“I’m personally against tolls, and we’re going to make sure we have the kind of financing package in place that eliminates the need for tolls,” he said on June 15, 2007.

His comments came more than a year after his government lost the last of seven court challenges against 407 International Inc. over toll increases.