TransLink reports that the Golden Ears Bridge is expected to continue losing up to $45 million a year because fewer people than projected are driving the tolled span.
This news comes just one week after the provincial government announced a new bridge will replace the George Massey Tunnel.
The Golden Ears could lose $35 million to $45 million annually for the next few years despite modest traffic growth of two to three per cent, according to an update TransLink officials gave Thursday to the Metro Vancouver mayors’ council, which approves TransLink funding and shapes the region’s long-term transit plans.
“There could be many factors why fewer people are using the bridge than originally forecast,” TransLink’s director of roads Sany Zein said in an emailed statement.
“One of the major factors is that the original forecasts were prepared well before the recession of 2007/08, at a time of extremely robust economic growth and lower gas prices. The recession, slower economic growth, and high gas prices have all contributed to less demand than originally expected.”
The organization said it is expecting similar modest gains in driver numbers in coming years that are “consistent with the economic growth in the market area of the bridge,” Zein added.
After it was built in 2009, TransLink agreed to subsidize the private operator of the $800-million Golden Ears Bridge – which replaced the organization’s Albion ferry – until it reached projected ridership figures. Tolls from the bridge linking Langley to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge have fallen short of traffic projections each year of its young life except last year.
While sitting on TransLink’s board more than a decade ago, Simon Fraser University professor Gordon Price voted for the Golden Ears during its preliminary planning stages. The head of SFU’s City Program said he still supports it replacing the ferry, but its perennial underusage is symptomatic of the region’s overbuilding problem.
“The really outstanding example is Granville (Street Bridge). It’s eight lanes and I remember the engineers telling me, ‘It physically cannot be used to its capacity. You can’t get enough cars on it through the (traffic) signal system,’” Price said.
The bridge set to replace the Massey Tunnel may suffer the same fate as Golden Ears because the provincial plan was disconnected from TransLink’s transit needs, Price said.
“If you had transit and bridge infrastructure, road infrastructure, being planned and financed as a single package as part of a regional plan, one would surely affect the other,” Price said. “And in this case, I think it maybe would be quite dramatic.
“What scale of bridge do you need? If you could build a significantly smaller bridge, in addition to saving the money on the capital, it would reduce the amount of the toll.”
The mayors’ council also heard Thursday that TransLink spent $40 million more than it earned in revenues last year, but the shortfall was anticipated and accounted for in this year’s budget.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said TransLink has been “living off the surplus that’s been generated prior to that time.”
@ Copyright 2013