Annacis workers fear ‘traffic hell on Earth’ from Massey tolls

Province urged to embark on toll policy reform soon, charge to cross Alex Fraser and all other Metro Vancouver bridges

Heather Bannah and her son Bruce

If the Alex Fraser Bridge becomes Metro Vancouver’s last free crossing of the Fraser River as bridge tolls proliferate, Highway 91 drivers fear they will face gridlock beyond comprehension.

And some of them won’t have a choice.

Cloverdale mom Heather Bannah works as a lab assistant on Annacis Island – beneath the bridge –and says there is no other route that she and hundreds of other Annacis workers could logically take.

So Bannah wasn’t happy to hear Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s announcement last month that the new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel will be tolled.

“I groaned,” she said. “We’re probably looking at tripling the amount of time to get across that bridge.”

Bannah says Alex Fraser traffic got much worse after the Port Mann Bridge was tolled.

And the heavier volumes affect local traffic on Annacis, because a growing number of drivers coming from Richmond short cut around the main bridge line by taking the long Annacis off-ramp, turning around on the island and then rejoining Highway 91.

She can’t imagine how much worse it will get if thousands of additional drivers who normally take Highway 99 and the Massey Tunnel instead switch to the Alex Fraser to avoid paying tolls.

“Everyone’s going to use it,” she said, adding many other workers on Annacis who live in Surrey and Langley are also worried.

“I think I will need to buy a boat,” added Surrey resident Chris McArdle, who also works on Annacis. “Annacis Island is going to truly be traffic hell on Earth.”

TransLink expects to charge tolls on the new Pattullo Bridge when its replacement opens.

Stone has suggested that after tolling the Massey and Pattullo, tolls might have to be added at the Alex Fraser as well, but the government has yet to specifically commit to toll reform or outline how it might work.

So the B.C. Trucking Association has given Stone a nudge, urging the province to begin discussing the idea more openly.

RELATED: Truckers propose answer to transportation funding riddle

“We have concern that we’re just going to be causing unnecessary congestion by tolling four out of the five crossings and stopping at that,” said BCTA president Louise Yako.

That scenario would cause “considerable problems” for businesses on Annacis Island, which she said is a major hub for trucking companies and home to various industries and warehouses.

“Conceptually, what we’re talking about is tolling all of the crossings,” Yako said. “The Second Narrows, the Lions Gate, Oak Street, Granville, Burrard – all of them. So that everyone pays a little bit to finance the large infrastructure projects that we all agree are necessary.”

All of the region’s bridges will eventually need to be rehabilitated, rebuilt or expanded, Yako argues.

She won’t say what she thinks is an appropriate toll amount for currently untolled bridges, adding that  number will depend on a detailed accounting of the operating costs of the current transportation network and estimates of the need for future capital projects.

But Yako suggested tolls be put on those crossings soon – before the new Massey bridge opens – rather than waiting for the completion of that project in 2022.

She noted the harm caused by congestion is not limited to travel time delays.

“When people drive further than they have to they’re producing additional emissions that are unnecessary and the further someone drives the greater the safety risk of a crash.”

‘Do it right now’

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson also supports tolls on all crossings at much lower rates – the sooner the better.

“I’d do it right now,” Jackson said, adding “people would understand” if blanket tolls were low enough.

“People would take a direct route rather than going around to save on the toll,” she said. “It would take the pressure off a lot of people who are now scrambling around taking longer routes to save on paying a toll.”

Other mayors have proposed harmonized bridge tolling before and it was recommended as a potential pilot project for road pricing last fall by an economic think tank.

Jackson hopes motorists support the idea by providing feedback to the province in the Massey replacement consultations, which wrap up Jan. 28.

New Westminster Coun. Patrick Johnstone said cutting the Port Mann toll in half and putting the same charge on the Pattullo Bridge would likely generate the same revenue as the Port Mann now does and greatly improve congestion in New Westminster and north Surrey, where many vehicles converge to take the free Pattullo.

“That would eliminate the traffic diversion problems and it would give the truckers an opportunity to use the freeway they want to use without being priced out of using it,” Johnstone said.

Port Mann leakage

Neither of the existing two toll bridges – the Port Mann and Golden Ears – are making as much money as was originally forecast, casting doubt on the debt repayment schedules.

“You’re having a revenue leak right now on the Port Mann – 20,000 people are just not showing up on the Port Mann, they’re showing up on the Pattullo instead,” Johnstone said.

He believes road pricing is “inevitable” and a move as soon as possible to consistent tolling along the Fraser could save drivers tremendous amounts of time.

So far Premier Christy Clark has shown little interest in the idea.

Johnstone said it might also undermine her government’s plan for the $3.5-billion Massey replacement.

“Ultimately, if you toll the tunnel and all the crossings on the Fraser, we would probably find the traffic demand for the tunnel would go away and we would no longer require an expensive bridge to replace it,” he said. “The premier has to figure out how to pay for this infrastructure she wants to build.”

Just Posted

Suspected spill kills hundreds of crayfish, coho in Langley river

A fish kill in the Nicomekl has a biologist concerned for the health of the local ecosystem.

Rams harvest sweet victory in win over Huskers

The Chilliwack team found itself pushed back again and again.

WATCH: Cops for Cancer bring message of hope to Langley school

Young cancer survivors are traveling with the fundraising bike ride.

Boxing coach takes shot at Langley City council run

Dave Allison has lived downtown for years and wants to represent his neighbours.

Langley venue of glass provides bright stage for charity art show

West Fine Arts Show runs Friday to Sunday at South Langley’s Glass House Estate Winery.

B.C. RCMP turn to Const. Scarecrow to shock speeders into slowing down

New addition will watch over drivers from a Coquitlam median for first-of-its-kind pilot in Canada

Aldergrove soccer forward enjoys scoring spree

UFV Cascades’ Jhaj named Canada West second star of the week

B.C. home to 1/3 of Canada’s overdose deaths in first 3 months of the year

There were 1,036 overdose deaths in the first three months of the year, with 94 per cent accidental

B.C. candidate moves from hospice care to council race

He beat terminal cancer twice and entered hospice when he decided to run for council.

Canadian tobacco exec pushes back against vaping health concerns

A warning from Interior Health about the unknown health risks of vaping is getting a partial rebuke

New ‘meowyoral’ race featuring felines announced by B.C. animal shelter

Organizers hope the cat election will generate attention for shelter and local municipal election

Ministry of Agriculture commits $300,000 to help B.C. farmers obtain land

B.C. Land Matching Program supports access to affordable farmland for young farmers

Lower Mainland city calls for slower trains near popular beach

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said ‘it’s the least we can do’

Most Read