Construction work underway on the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge. It's expected to open in late 2012.

Construction work underway on the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge. It's expected to open in late 2012.

New toll bridge assumes more drivers will pay to cross

Critics say Port Mann forecast looks overly optimistic

Despite growing evidence motorists will drive out of their way to avoid tolls, the provincial government is counting on many more drivers paying to cross the tolled Port Mann Bridge than it currently carries for free.And if that optimistic forecast fails to materialize, the pricey project may gush red ink for years to come.The new 10-lane bridge is expected to rake in $175 million in tolls in its first full year of operations in 2013, according to numbers tabled this month with the provincial budget.That’s based on a traffic forecast of 150,000 daily users paying tolls – 20 per cent more than the 125,000 who crossed for free in 2007 and about seven per cent more than the 140,000 the bridge is expected to carry this year.But even at that level, the Port Mann Bridge is expected to lose money because toll revenues won’t yet match the province’s annual costs of debt servicing and paying the private operators.The Transportation Investment Corp. – B.C.’s Crown corporation created to oversee the Port Mann/Highway 1 project and ensure the tolls eventually cover the $3.3-billion cost – predicts significant subsidies in the initial years, with the Port Mann starting to break even in 2017.That break-even date, however, depends on the number of daily paying drivers climbing to between 175,000 and 180,000, and tolls exceeding $200 million. By 2021, the bridge is expected to carry 189,000 vehicles per day.The rosy forecasts are in contrast with the experience so far at the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, where traffic levels and toll revenues are so far well below what TransLink expected, meaning it will be subsidized longer than planned.But Transportation Investment Corp. spokesman Max Logan rejects that comparison, noting the Golden Ears created a new link where use is expected to build over time.”We are looking at a very different profile of user and profile of traffic for the Port Mann Bridge than the Golden Ears Bridge,” he said.”We’re looking at mainly established users on the corridor whom we expect to continue to use the Port Mann.”Some regular Port Mann users are expected to divert to the Pattullo or Alex Fraser bridges to cross the Fraser River for free, Logan acknowledged.”But we expect there are other drivers who are using crossings like the Pattullo who will move back to the Port Mann despite the toll due to the fairly dramatic travel time savings they’re going to experience.”Regular cars will be charged a minimum $3 to cross one-way, provided they use a transponder or pay within two days – otherwise the cost will be $5.30. The base toll will rise 2.5 per cent a year.Private bidders to build the project conducted their own traffic volume modeling, which Logan said confirmed the province’s traffic estimates.They have not been revised in light of the financial downturn or the Golden Ears track record and are based on the Pattullo remaining a free crossing.The provincial government has promised the tolls will come off the Port Mann when it’s paid for – at the end of the 35-year contract with the partners that are building, operating and maintaining it.But if drivers’ response is lukewarm and the tolls don’t ultimately cover the costs, Victoria could be forced to either absorb a loss on the bridge on behalf of taxpayers or keep tolls in place beyond 2048.Logan said there is some wriggle room – although he could not say how much – in the estimates to ensure all the costs can be recovered over 35 years with somewhat less than the forecast traffic volumes.Surrey trucker Todd Norberg said he and nearly everyone he knows will avoid the tolled Port Mann “like the plague” unless they have no other choice.”People are going to either transfer their jobs or they’re going to avoid it altogether,” he predicts. “The only people who are going to be crossing it are the wealthy and the impatient drivers.”Norberg said it’s “absolutely criminal” to toll the main artery into Vancouver, penalizing people whose family or jobs regularly take them back and forth across the river.He has his own prediction of what will happen when the tolls kick in: huge traffic jams in Surrey, Delta, New Westminster and Burnaby as commuters head for the free crossings.Planners could even test motorists distaste for tolls, Norberg suggested, by making the Golden Ears Bridge free for two months to compare against its use with tolls.Outside experts say the Port Mann growth forecasts look out of step with the experience elsewhere.Seattle has built toll lanes allowing those who pay to bypass congestion on Highway 167.But Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute says the tolls aren’t even coming close to paying for the cost of the electronic toll collection system.”People aren’t willing to pay for car trips as much as planners thought they would,” he said.Rising fuel prices and other factors may also mean people opt to drive less than they did before, he added.Williams-Derry thinks the trend of denser home construction is also creating more walkable urban neighbourhoods and less need for residents to drive, while simultaneously making improved transit service more viable.Victoria Transportation Policy Institute founder Todd Litman agrees, noting the steady automobile traffic growth rates planners have assumed would continue indefinitely have levelled off.”People are more price-sensitive than what transportation modellers used to think,” Litman said. “They’re more likely to change their behaviour than what people used to think. This may result in significantly less toll revenue than what the modelers predict.”B.C.’s rising carbon tax is another factor that gradually deters car use, NDP transportation critic Harry Bains said.”These (Port Mann) projections are highly questionable when you consider all those arguments,” he said.While some critics of tolling the Port Mann argue a consistent policy of tolling all bridges or major routes in Metro Vancouver is needed, Bains calls that a knee-jerk reaction.”Fairness doesn’t mean that you toll everything,” he said, but added a more realistic comprehensive tolling policy for the province is needed.Currently, B.C.’s tolling policy allows tolls to be charged only on new or significantly improved infrastructure and only when drivers are able to use a reasonable free alternative.

Related:

Just Posted

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Emergency services were on the scene of an apparent stabbing Friday afternoon (June 11) in the 2400 block of Countess Street in Abbotsford. (Photo: Kaytlin Harrison)
Two suspects arrested after apparent stabbing in Abbotsford

Incident occurs Friday afternoon in 2400 block of Countess Street

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month in Canada. (ADOBE STOCK IMAGE)
Shining a light on brain injury in Canada

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read