The cities of Surrey and New Westminster have formally agreed the new Pattullo Bridge will be tolled to recover the construction costs, and that the new span will be four lanes, expandable in the future to six.
The agreement was brokered by TransLink, which expects it will take six to seven years to build a new bridge to replace the existing 79-year-old crossing.
Tolls on the new Pattullo had been widely expected and assumed by Metro Vancouver mayors as the main funding source for the $1-billion replacement project.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said she and other mayors also hope to develop a mobility pricing system that charges drivers by time of day and distance travelled and replaces the current system of bridge tolls, like the ones levied at the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
The agreement predicts a conventional bridge toll will be necessary when the new Pattullo opens, but commits the parties to determine how it could later integrate into an eventual road pricing system.
“As an interim measure prior to the full implementation of mobility pricing, consistent tolling of all the Fraser River crossings may be considered,” the agreement says, citing the need to make bridge tolling fairer to South of Fraser residents.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said tolling the new Pattullo is “very important” to his city, which has borne the brunt of rising traffic flows over the Pattullo as Highway 1 drivers divert to avoid paying tolls at the Port Mann.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of congestion since the existing Pattullo has become the toll-free alternative,” Coté said, adding the impact on local roads has been significant.
“By coordinating the tolls between the Port Mann and the Pattullo Bridge we feel traffic patterns will actually change and there will be reduced congestion on the Pattullo Bridge and the surrounding road networks.”
He also hopes the province becomes part of a broader conversation on road pricing, adding the current method of tolling each new bridge as it opens has unwanted consequences.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone was questioned again Monday as to whether he would leave the Alex Fraser Bridge as the only untolled crossing of the Fraser in Metro Vancouver if both the new Pattullo and Massey bridges are tolled.
“There’s at least five to six years here for there to be a thoughtful and considered discussion and debate across the region about the broader tolling policy,” Stone responded, referring to how long it will take for the new replacement bridges to open.
Stone has previously said tolls on both the Pattullo and Massey would force an overhaul of the provincial tolling policy, which he said currently requires there to be “a non-tolled alternative where that’s feasible.”
Surrey and New Westminster had tussled before over the design of the bridge, with Surrey pushing for six lanes and some New West residents wishing no new Pattullo would be built at all.
The City of Surrey also wants a direct connection from the new Pattullo to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and has warned TransLink it won’t support construction of the new bridge without that, because too much traffic would end up on local roads, including King George Boulevard.
TransLink aims to go out to bids to build the new bridge by fall of 2017.
Meanwhile, TransLink is proceeding with a scaled-down rehabilitation of the existing bridge.
Work begins in late April to resurface the deck, resulting in traffic lane closures and some complete bridge closures through September.
The province has pledged to pay one third of the capital cost to replace the Pattullo, and the project is also in the hunt for federal contributions under the P3 Canada fund.