Toll rising for poorly used bridge
The crowds walking the Golden Ears Bridge during a preview were huge, but traffic volume has been anything but. (FILE PHOTO)
TransLink says that despite a 1.5% annual toll increase on the Golden Ears Bridge announced Wednesday, the money-losing bridge would have to continue to be subsidized through other transit revenues for at least the next decade.
And simply reducing the toll to make the underused crossing more attractive isn’t going to bring the bridge back into the black, said TransLink director of infrastructure and network management Sany Zein.
“It’s not as easy as to say if we were to reduce tolls we would have more users,” he said.
“We may see a slight increase if we were to lower the tolls, but we don’t believe we would see a dramatic increase.”
Zein said the problem was an incorrect forecast made around 2004-2005 that had predicted much higher use. He said that was a time when gas prices had been lower and the global recession had yet to make its effects felt.
That’s why, since the bridge’s opening in 2009, “every year it’s between $35 to $40 million to cover the gap on the Golden Ears Bridge,” he said.
That means the bridge’s usage has to double to make up that shortfall, according to TransLink’s finances. Golden Ears toll revenue last year made $39.4 million, based on 11 million crossings.
TransLink has now revised its forecast, Zany said — the bridge will be paid back by 2041 by subsidizing its cost, and has an expected lifespan of up to 100 years. “This year’s growth appears to be an extra 4% over last year,” he said.
TransLink also pointed to the impact of new infrastructure such as Highway 1 and 17 improvements driving people away.
Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters said the rate increases — which TransLink says are inflationary to keep up with increasing maintenance and annual payment costs — are “discouraging” bridge users.
“Make it $1 a bridge and encourage people to use it rather than discourage them,” she said.
However, Walters also expects the bridge’s use to increase this year, as businesses have been relocating to Pitt Meadows since the tolled Port Mann Bridge — which she said had previously been a free alternate route — opened in late 2012.
The tolling increase takes effect July 15 and will rise by five to 15 cents per crossing.