Some Metro Vancouver mayors say a new bridge announced by the premier to replace the Massey Tunnel should be subjected to a referendum like one the province promises to give voters a say on new TransLink taxes.
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore said mayors will ask Transportation Minister Todd Stone at a meeting Thursday if the new bridge will be tolled and if authority for tolls would also go to a referendum.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has also raised the notion of a referendum on the bridge, which he warned could consume billions of dollars and bump back expanded rapid transit as the region’s top priority.
It’s not yet clear if mayors are raising the issue mainly to pressure the province to change its course on the TransLink referendum – which they oppose – or if they believe it stands a better chance of passing if the Massey bridge is thrown in the mix, giving drivers more reason to vote yes.
Moore said a dual-issue referendum seems logical but cautioned voters on the North Shore or northeast sector who make little use of the Deas crossing might vote down the whole package.
“Most of us are not fans of the referendum to start with, so this just, frankly, complicates it,” Moore said of the bridge announcement.
He said he hopes Stone indicates what the question will be, when it will happen and “what’s the plan B if the referendum fails.”
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said it’s a “forgone conclusion” the new bridge will come with tolls to pay for it.
And while she strongly supports building the new high-level bridge to decongest traffic and let ocean-going ships sail upriver, Watts said she believes Premier Christy Clark’s election promise on a referendum extends to a new bridge toll.
“I’m just going by what the premier said during the election – that if anybody is expected to pay any additional tolls or transit infrastructure fees it should go to a referendum,” she said.
Watts said she can’t support another high toll like the $3 (as of December) to cross the Port Mann Bridge, but continues to promote a consistent system of smaller tolls applied on more crossings, or possibly some form of road pricing.
“I think it needs to be fair and equitable across the region,” Watts said, adding she intends to raise the issue with Stone.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson predicts most people would accept smaller tolls applied fairly on all bridges, not just the next one to be replaced, even though charging on existing bridges would require the province changing its tolling policy.
“If a toll for everyone of 75 cents or $1 could be incorporated over the region, I believe that everyone would feel they were paying their share as a member of the driving public,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Moore both warned adding a new toll only on the Massey bridge would put enormous pressure on the Alex Fraser Bridge as a free crossing.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie also said the premier’s announcement Sept. 22 that the new crossing will be a bridge will intensify the debate over road pricing.
Road pricing isn’t expected to be on the referendum ballot – it would take years of study to flesh out – but quicker-to-implement sources for TransLink could include an annual vehicle levy or a small regional sales tax.
He raised concerns about the loss of farmland for a giant new bridge and questioned whether the bottleneck now at the tunnel will just move towards the Richmond-Vancouver border.
“You go quickly across the bridge but are you just going to hit congestion when you get to the other side?”
He called for more steps now to improve transit on the corridor to get drivers out of cars, rather than waiting until a 2022 opening date, assuming construction of the new bridge begins as planned in the 2017 election year.
Brodie said Richmond is also concerned that the bridge would enable larger tankers carrying jet fuel to go up the Fraser.