The Pattullo Bridge

Trucks shift to free Pattullo to beat Port Mann tolls: Watts

TI Corp. disputes claim of 25-per-cent diversion of big rigs.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is alarmed an estimated 25 per cent more trucks are using the free Pattullo Bridge since the province started charging tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge.

Watts said she received the estimate of trucks diverting to the Pattullo from the B.C. Trucking Association, which made the calculation based on City of Surrey traffic counts.

“We knew there would be some diversion – it’s been a concern since square one,” said Watts, who chairs a new Metro Vancouver transportation committee.

“It’s problematic because the infrastructure can’t accommodate it.”

Critics of tolls on the new Port Mann had predicted a major shift in traffic to the free route once the toll bridge opened in December.

The opening of the northern section of the South Fraser Perimeter Road has acted as a bypass, carrying toll-avoiding traffic most of the way to the Pattullo.

Big rigs sometimes straddle both lanes over the Pattullo because the 75-year-old span is too narrow, compounding delays from heavy truck traffic.

Watts said part of the problem is heavy trucks haven’t been offered an introductory discount – regular drivers who signed up by February get half-price tolls all year – or the option of a reduced rate monthly pass offered to other drivers.

Large trucks pay a full $9 per crossing, which some truckers estimate can add up to $12,000 a year.

“If there isn’t a monthly pass for large trucks – which there isn’t right now – then there has to be a discount,” Watts said. “We’re talking the economy, we’re talking the movement of goods. So we have to deal with these issues.”

Watts noted truck traffic in the region is projected to grow steadily as Port Metro Vancouver expands and cargo shipments increase.

B.C. Trucking Association vice-president Trace Acres said the increase in truck use at the Pattullo doesn’t necessarily prove there’s a large diversion from the Port Mann, but added truckers are carefully weighing the costs and benefits of different routes since the new tolls kicked in.

Acres said the Transportation Investment Corp., the Crown corporation that administers the Port Mann, has committed to consider a monthly pass for heavy trucks in the months ahead.

“There was some concern the trucks weren’t being offered a discount in the same way smaller vehicles were,” he said.

TI Corp. spokesman Max Logan said Port Mann traffic counts show no evidence large numbers of trucks are diverting to the Pattullo.

“Those numbers aren’t consistent with what we’re seeing on the Port Mann Bridge right now,” Logan said. “Our truck numbers and our overall traffic volumes are consistent with what we saw before tolling started.”

In January, he said, 2.86 million vehicles crossed the bridge, compared to 2.9 million in the same month of 2012.

Truck counts fluctuate more, he said, but range from 10,000 to 15,000 crossings a day.

One permanent discount that is offered to big trucks gives them half price tolls if they travel overnight from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.