It’s looking more and more like the Alex Fraser Bridge will be the first “older” crossing in the region to feature tolls. I
don’t think there’s any way around it.
We’re likely the better part of a decade away from the implementation of tolls, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to see the crossing, which is closing in on its 30th birthday, stay toll-free for the long run.
As its neighbouring spans are replaced by tolled
crossings, and an increasing number of drivers look for that always-popular free alternative, the strain placed on the Alex Fraser will be so great the province will have no other choice but to act.
We’ve already got a tolled Port Mann Bridge sending drivers in search of a free option, and when a bridge is built to replace the George
Massey Tunnel, expected to be operational by 2022, it’s almost certain it would be tolled, too.
Throw in a tolled replacement for the Pattullo Bridge, which is one of the key planks of the long-range vision recently unveiled by the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, and, within the next decade
or so, you’ll have three of the four crossings of the south arm charging drivers for the privilege of getting across the river.
A New Westminster delegation was in Delta this year lamenting what a tolled Port Mann has meant for their community, which has been inundated by drivers looking for a free way across the Fraser. Multiply that threefold and you’ll get the predicament the Alex Fraser and its users will be in once the new crossings are in place.
It will be unbearable and once we get to that point, those who are calling the shots in Victoria won’t have much choice but to revise the policy of only collecting tolls on new infrastructure.
I suspect that will be the catalyst that will finally force a decision on road
pricing or some other form of collecting fees from everyone who contributes to the congestion of the Lower Mainland’s road network, and not just those who travel across new bridges.
With just the Golden Ears and Port Mann tolled at the moment, the inequity only runs so deep. But as more tolled crossings come on board, forcing some drivers to pay and others to escape government clutches, the cry for an equitable situation will surely intensify. For those who have been crossing it free of charge since it opened in 1986, tolls on the Alex Fraser will seem like a cruel joke, but leaving it status quo will almost certainly be worse.
Ted Murphy is editor of Delta Optimist, a sister paper to the Now.