Rendering of the 10-lane bridge planned to replace the George Massey tunnel.

Rendering of the 10-lane bridge planned to replace the George Massey tunnel.

Massey tolls punish South of Fraser region: MP, mayor

Bridge pricing unfair for residents south of the Fraser River, elected officials say.

A plan to toll the Massey Tunnel replacement bridge is further punishing residents who live south of the Fraser while doing nothing to get people out of their cars, says Conservative MP Dianne Watts.

“The system, to be tolling and penalizing people south of the Fraser, is unfair,” Watts told Peace Arch News Friday.

The stand was echoed by Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner – a proponent of mobility pricing – who predicted the new toll will result in either an increase in the price of goods and services, or put “enormous” pressure on the Alex Fraser Bridge, as the only free alternative.

“It is simply not fair for those south of the Fraser to be landlocked… when freedom of movement is available to the rest of the region at no cost,” Hepner said Monday. “The only thing that will get people out of their cars is a system that works and right now, south of the Fraser, there is no system.”

Transportation Minister Todd Stone confirmed last week that the planned $3.5-billion, 10-lane replacement bridge will be tolled, with motorists paying a similar amount as they do at the Port Mann. The span over the Fraser is projected to save commuters up to 30 minutes if they pay to cross; 14 per cent of current traffic is expected to divert to the Alex Fraser.

Watts, who served as  mayor of Surrey from 2005 to 2014, said she has long opposed tolling infrastructure on a piecemeal basis, favouring instead a “fair and equitable” region-wide, road-pricing system, which she said is “best practice in the world.”

BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg (Surrey-White Rock) told PAN that while tolling “is the place that we’re starting with” for the new bridge, he agreed a strategic plan that considers Metro Vancouver’s transportation picture as a whole is needed.

“Being able to make sure that there’s a strategic plan that involves both rapid transit and bridges, I think, is the solution, and we’re trying to work towards that,” Hogg said Monday.

He described road pricing as among “a number of options”, and named tolling all of the bridges and the impact of increasing public transit as other factors that blend into the model.

“My personal opinion is we have to look more broadly at all of the bridges… We need to find ways to better-rationalize the whole transportation system for Metro Vancouver,” Hogg said.

Watts pointed to the Golden Ears Bridge as example of how tolling doesn’t work.

“The last time I got any financial information, TransLink was losing $50 million a year,” she said.

In addition to tolling decreasing the life expectancy of free alternatives, it “really exacerbates the use of vehicles when you don’t have an integrated rapid-transit system,” she said.

“People don’t have any other choice but to get in their car.”

The new bridge is “not going to have any impact on traffic-management because it’s not an integrated system.”

“You really have to look fundamentally at what it is you’re trying to achieve, and you need to look at it system-wide, not at how to recoup money as fast as you can to pay for the infrastructure.”

Watts said that while she doesn’t go out of her way to avoid tolled crossings, “if I don’t have to use them, I won’t.”

Hepner said she remains optimistic a funding strategy for the mayors transportation plan, approved 18 months ago, will be found, enabling it to come into play before the new bridge is built, and opening the door for mobility pricing.

“Simply tolling south of the Fraser will be punitive,” she said.

 

Surrey North Delta Leader

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