Feedback on the Massey Tunnel replacement shows substantial but qualified public support to both build the proposed new bridge and to impose tolls of some sort to pay for it.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Wednesday by the province on the latest round of public and stakeholder consultations.
The findings also suggest considerable support for tolling policy reform – potentially by tolling all bridges in order to achieve a lower toll at the Massey – and that sentiment eclipses unconditional support for the new bridge itself.
Of 874 respondents who filled out feedback forms at public meetings or online, 44 per cent gave conditional support for Massey tolling, but with either a lower toll or tolls on all bridges.
Another 13 per cent supported a standard Port Mann-type toll at the new Massey Bridge as proposed, while 22 per cent opposed tolling entirely and 14 per cent wanted other funding sources used.
Vancouver residents were more likely to back tolls, while Richmond residents typically said they could accept it if all bridges were tolled at a lower rate. Tolling opposition was strongest in Delta.
Of the 664 respondents who gave an opinion on the project as a whole, 24 per cent were generally supportive, while 31 per cent indicated conditional support and 10 per cent were generally opposed, the report says.
“Many participants suggested that tolling should be applied in the context of a regional tolling policy,” the report said.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone acknowledged tolling reform is a discussion that needs to begin, but noted the Massey Bridge won’t open until 2022.
“We welcome the feedback people have about tolling, about mobility pricing,” he told reporters.
“This is not a subject that needs to be rushed in the next week or two or month,” Stone said. “We actually have about a five-year window of opportunity to have a broad based discussion with people in the region about what people want.”
The report also flags significant public concerns that the project will increase congestion at the Oak Street Bridge, a scenario Stone says is not borne out by traffic projections.
He also defended the environmental benefits of the project from reduced idling, which critics hotly contest.
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said the province had poised to add another tunnel until apparent pressure from the port authority in 2012 led to the bridge plan.
He argues a tunnel expansion would be far cheaper.
“Why are we spending $3.5 billion for a bridge when the (previous) plan would have been about half a billion?”
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says the notion that the port is behind the bridge plan to allow bigger ships up the Fraser River is a myth.
The new bridge would be no higher than the Alex Fraser Bridge, she said, so it would make no difference to enabling bigger ships to get to upriver industrial areas.
Upriver shipping with deeper draft vessels would also require the costly relocation of underwater sewer and water lines, she added.
Jackson recently proposed reduced tolls on all bridges and said she hopes the public response will nudge the province toward an earlier fair tolling solution.
“What it would do is allow people to use the Port Mann and the Golden Ears with more frequency rather than going around,” she said. “Think about doing this sooner than later and allow those two bridges to be used to capacity with a lower toll.”
The Tsawwassen First Nation has also come out in support of the new bridge, saying access to and from TFN lands depend on a new bridge that can handle future growth.
Chief Bryce Williams said he will expect a rigorous environmental assessment and community consultations to ensure the project minimizes impacts on the Fraser River fishery, as well as TFN territory and treaty rights.