Opinion Column

Suburban living comes with a cost


Earlier this week, three eastbound lanes of the new Port Mann Bridge were finally opened to the public. It was the first of several key milestones leading up to the official opening of the world's widest bridge later this year.

Despite the multi-billion dollar price tag for this massive infrastructure project, there will be no tolls charged until at least eight lanes are open both ways. Transportation Minister Mary Polak announced that the discounted Port Mann fee will be a bargain basement price of only $1.50 per trip for non-commercial vehicles.

While this might seem like a reasonable rate for those looking to shave hours off their weekly commute, civic politicians south of the Fraser continue to grumble they are being treated unfairly. Even though they lobbied the provincial government to build a new toll bridge, they are now advocating for a more equitable tolling policy around the Metro Vancouver region.

If Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts had her way, she'd prefer tolls on the new Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges were lowered. She'd likely make up the lost revenue by slapping a new bridge tax on older crossings such as the Granville, Oak Street, Queensborough and Cambie Street bridges.

Watts believes it's patently unfair that her constituents are subjected to a toll every time they want to make their way to Vancouver or Pitt Meadows.

In its past, Metro Vancouver charged tolls to help pay for new infrastructure. At one point, there were tolls in place on the Lion's Gate, Ironworkers Memorial, Pattullo and Oak Street bridges as well as the Massey Tunnel.

Bridge tolling is also something familiar to most Americans living in big cities. The Port Authority of New Jersey and New York lists a $12 cash toll for a car on a number of key crossings.

At about $5 for a car trip, some tolls in the San Francisco Bay area may be a bit cheaper but they are still higher than those proposed for the new Port Mann.

Living in the suburbs clearly comes with many advantages. You get the white picket fence, a backyard built for a German Shepherd plus homes priced at least 20% lower than in Vancouver.

But it is high time local politicians understand that living in sprawling suburban neighbourhoods must come with a price. And that's going to come in the form of bridge tolls to pay for this new infrastructure.

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