Phil Melnychuk photo Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena and Premier John Horgan announce Friday that tolls will be off the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges.

Elimination of bridge tolls raises questions

Mixed reactions in Surrey-White Rock-Langley area to provincial move

While some are lauding Premier John Horgan’s announcement last week that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ear bridges will be axed as of Friday, questions over funding ramifications are also being heard.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that while she is pleased the “burdensome” and “punitive” bridge tolls for people South of the Fraser are being removed, it leaves unanswered questions about how the expected tolled replacement for Surrey’s aging Pattullo Bridge will be paid for.

“That is going to be a serious discussion over the coming months,” Hepner told Black Press after Horgan’s announcement. “So we will have to look to the province about how we’re going to stay whole in that respect. All that has yet to be addressed.”

However, Hepner noted the elimination of bridge tolls will be good for regional businesses and help even out traffic flow.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, too, said he has concerns about the financial impacts of the decision, adding that he feels that some type of ‘mobility pricing’ – having those who use the roads more pay a greater share of infrastructure costs – will likely have to be considered.

“(The provincial government) is following through on their election promise, and good for them on that,” he said Friday. “What it will do is replace toll revenues with money from taxes. The government will pay that amount from the money we’re counting on for revenues.

“That’s up to them. But since they’ve removed the tolls, that makes it a little difficult to achieve mobility pricing. We have to make up that revenue somehow and that’s either going to have to be through some other form of mobility pricing or else property taxes.

“We’ll see.”

Horgan said Friday that “scrapping unfair tolls” on the Port Mann and Golden Ears will make life more affordable for many people.

“You shouldn’t have to pay tolls based on where you live,” he said. “This is about fairness.”

After the announcement, Surrey Board of Trade issued a news release saying it supports the NDP government’s announcement to eliminate the tolls, but the group is calling for mobility pricing to be considered.

“The (board) understands the B.C. government’s move to eliminate the tolls,” CEO Anita Huberman said. “The focus now needs to be on how to fund the present and future transit and transportation infrastructure needs for Metro Vancouver. Mobility pricing is an option that needs to be explored.”

Meantime, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver – whose party formed an alliance with the NDP after the May 9 election to defeat the BC Liberals – called the removal of the tolls “reckless.”

“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern,” Weaver said in a news release. “However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt.”

The removal of the tolls is estimated to save families who regularly have to cross the Fraser River an average $1,500 a year and commercial drivers averaging one crossing a day will save $4,500 a year or more.

Each day, an estimated 121,000 vehicles cross the Port Mann Bridge, with another 40,000 vehicles taking the Golden Ears.

Toll opponent Gary Hee, who ran as an independent in Surrey South in the last B.C. election, spent four years trying to get the tolls cancelled.

He collected a petition with 1,100 names and presented it to the then-BC Liberal government. His efforts didn’t go anywhere, though the BC Liberals proposed during the May election capping annual toll fees to motorists at $500.

“You know what the secret is?” Hee said. “Don’t give up.

“Have faith, hope and determination.”

Hee says that the government should just impose a new fee to licence plates, to be applied provincewide, in order to raise money to replace the lost bridge-toll revenue. “Why make it more complex?”

Bills for tolls up to Aug. 31 will still need to be paid.

Currently, the toll to cross the Port Mann is $3.15 for cars, pickups and SUVs, $6.30 for medium-sized vehicles and $9.45 for commercial vehicles.

The toll to cross the Golden Ears is $3.20 to $4.45 for cars, pickups and SUVs, $6.35-$7.55 for medium-sized vehicles and $9.45-$10.70 for commercial vehicles.

Preliminary costing estimates anticipate an annual cost to government of $30 million for the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, based on the number and frequency of commuters who cross them.

Construction of the six-lane Golden Ears Bridge and associated roads project began in April 2006 and opened in June 2009.

Translink stopped the Albion Ferry, a free vehicle and passenger ferry service across Fraser River, for the bridge’s opening. The ferry service sailing between Albion in Maple Ridge and McMillan Island near Fort Langley had been operational since June 1957.

The Port Mann, a 10-lane cable-stayed bridge, opened in 2012, replacing the previous arched structure. It is the second-longest cable-stayed bridge in North America and was the widest bridge in the world until the opening of the new Bay Bridge in California.

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