COLUMN: Equitable toll policy must come to pass

Decision to toll proposed Deas Island bridge another excellent of hypocritical tolling policy, writes Frank Bucholtz.

The provincial government should get its ducks in a row.

That means it needs to have a clear and fair tolling policy in place before opening yet another toll bridge between the South Fraser region and the rest of Metro Vancouver.

Last Wednesday’s announcement that a new 10-lane bridge will replace the Massey Tunnel, and that it will be tolled, is another reminder of how hypocritical and discriminatory the government’s current tolling policy is. Work on the new bridge will begin in 2017, and it is expected to open by 2022.

Currently, there are just two tolled bridges in B.C. One is the new Port Mann Bridge, built and operated by the province through the Transportation Investment Corporation (TReO). The other is the Golden Ears Bridge, built and operated by TransLink. Both link Surrey, Langley, and Delta with those to the north.

It is important to look at tolling in its complete context.

Prior to the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge in 2009, the only toll highway in B.C. since the early 1960s had been the Coquihalla Highway. It was tolled when it opened in 1986, because its construction timetable was advanced to have it ready for Expo 86.

It remained a toll highway for more than 20 years, with then-premier Gordon Campbell arbitrarily and surprisingly announcing at the September 2008 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that the tolls were ending. A total of $845 million was collected over 22 years – just $3 million short of the construction cost of the highway and the connecting link to the Okanagan.

No one saw it coming, and though many interior politicians had called for the tolls to end, even they were blindsided.

The Golden Ears was planned as a toll bridge because it was the only way TransLink could afford to build it. It replaced the aging and slow ferry system which was completely inadequate for the volumes of traffic travelling between Maple Ridge and Langley. It was a new bridge in a location where there had not been a crossing.

The new Port Mann bridge, on the other hand, replaced one of the most important and congested river crossings in the province. It carries the Trans-Canada Highway, which is partially funded by the federal government. It is tolled to reduce the province’s costs. Yet other new provincial highways and bridges, notably the Pitt River Bridge and the Sea to Sky Highway, are free to use.

The province’s tolling policy since the new Port Mann and freeway improvements were announced by Campbell in 2006 says there has to be a free alternative. Theoretically, that is the Pattullo Bridge, but in fact that aging structure cannot handle any more traffic. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is an option to bypass the Port Mann, but one of the major effects has been to put even more traffic on the Alex Fraser and Massey crossings.

If the new Deas Island crossing is also tolled, the pressure on the Alex Fraser Bridge will be enormous. It is already badly congested virtually every weekday morning and evening. There are long lineups to get onto it, whether off Highway 17, Nordel Way or 72 Avenue on the south, or the East-West Connector and Queensborough Bridge on the north.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone did acknowledge last week that the province expects about 14 per cent of daily commuters could shift from the tunnel to the Alex Fraser. He believes that will be temporary.

The minister also said he is willing to examine the tolling policy and road pricing, if TransLink decides to replace the Pattullo Bridge. A new crossing there would also be a toll structure.

Residents who live south of the Fraser River deserve far more from provincial and regional officials than lukewarm promises. There must be a regional tolling and road-pricing policy in place before the Deas Island bridge opens.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

White Rock house targeted in 2016 drug raid forfeited to province

Supreme Court proceedings regarding Parker Street property favour director of civil forfeiture

Surrey landlord’s petition to overturn RTB decision fails

Case involved former tenant evicted from basement suite on grounds his landlord needed it for family

Halloween Calendar

Family friendly events happening around Surrey

PHOTOS: ‘Young at Heart’ seniors sing and dance again in Surrey ‘bursary show’

The Vaudevillians on Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage Nov. 2-3

Rick Hansen Foundation gives Surrey $105K to make washrooms more accessible

The grants will be used for accessibility upgrades at eight civic sites across the city

YouTube video of Revelstoke grizzly bear goes viral

Why did the grizzly bear cross the railway tracks?

Japanese buyer expands wood pellet contract with B.C.’s Pinnacle

Mitsui and Co. increases contract with Interior energy producer

ELECTION 2019: Have Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Conservative Andrew Scheer vows to cut bottom bracket, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh targets wealth tax

B.C. RCMP officer suing the force for malicious prosecution

Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth cleared of wrongdoing after misconduct hearing

UPDATE: Vehicle located and driver arrested in relation to fatal hit-and-run

Male pedestrian in his 50s died after being struck by vehicle on Highway 11 in Abbotsford

Talk to your kids about vaping, B.C.’s top doctor says

B.C. health officials have discovered the first vaping-related illness in the province

Alberta truck convoy plans counter-protest at climate rally with Greta Thunberg

United We Roll organizer says similar protest planned for Swedish teen’s event in Edmonton

Scheer, Trudeau, Singh haggle over potential minority government outcome

If you believe the polls, it appears the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-and-neck

Most Read

l -->