Yesterday the Vancouver Sun published Tolled bridge to cost taxpayers even more, which presented a somewhat misleading impression about the financing of the Golden Ears Bridge. The Sun implied that taxpayers will be subjected to new taxes in the amount of $63.8 million because toll revenue to date falls short of payments for construction and operation of the bridge. That prompted a quick response from TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie who said to the CBC, “By the end of 2011, we expect a $63 million gap, a deficit we will be able to cover through savings, through other capital programs and reserves. The key thing right now is that there is no exposure to the taxpayer. We’re not going to come looking for more money to cover the gap on the Golden Ears Bridge.”
See TransLink’s 2011 BUSINESS PLAN, OPERATING AND CAPITAL BUDGET SUMMARY (93pp., 662 KB pdf) for financial details.
Traffic on the bridge has fallen short of pre-construction estimates because of motorists’ distaste for tolls. The opening of the bridge in July 2009 displaced the free Albion ferry service which formerly crossed the Fraser River between Maple Ridge and Surrey. Daily bridge traffic had risen to about 25,000 vehicles daily in July 2010, but has reportedly “plateaued.” Tolls range between $2.80-$3.95 for cars and $8.40-$9.55 for semi-trailers depending upon the billing method, and are indexed to inflation. There are no toll booths as tolls are assessed by vehicle transponders or licence plate readers.
Alternative routes are free but congested, especially during rush hours. That situation will change somewhat when the twinned, and tolled, Port Mann Bridge crossing opens in 2013.
A final decision on whether to replace or upgrade the Patullo Bridge hasn’t been made, but there is a strong possibility that it too will become a tolled crossing.
The Sun story mentioned above contains some interesting comments from SFU (Simon Fraser University) professor of Urban Studies Anthony Perl, who predicts that both the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will become “white elephants we’ll be stuck paying for.” Perl argues sustainable alternatives will replace the single-passenger cars that dominate present day commuting.
The Albion Ferry Kuleet with Golden Ears Mountain behind (Max Burley photo)