Opinion

Editorial — Plenty of toll bridge upheaval

The new Port Mann Bridge will be tolled, starting Saturday, Dec. 8.

This should serve as a great incentive for those who have yet to register with TrEO, the arm of the provincial government overseeing the tolling program. Those who register by Nov. 30 will receive 20 free trips over the tolled bridge, and will pay half-price tolls for the first year. This is a good reason to register, as it will take some of the sting out of the tolls.

It is also fair, as the entire highway improvement project will not be complete when the tolls go into effect.

One other benefit of registering with TrEO is that there will no longer be a need for those who are registered to have transponders to cross Golden Ears Bridge at the lowest rate. The two tolling systems will be integrated.

It is also a very shrewd marketing strategy — something that was completely lacking when TransLink opened the Golden Ears Bridge, which remains mostly empty because of a lack of any incentive to use it.

While some experts have predicted that it will become busier when tolls begin on the Port Mann, that seems far-fetched. Why would any driver wish to pay more to cross that particular bridge, in a direction that isn’t the most optimal for the overall trip?

There are relatively few work destinations near the bridge on that side of the river for Langley and Surrey residents. While more people from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows commute to this side of the river to work, the numbers aren’t vast.

The tolls on both bridges  remain very unfair to residents who must regularly cross the river. There are no tolls on any other portion of the new highway, which is being almost completely rebuilt. There are no tolls on bridges or river crossings anywhere else in the Lower Mainland, or on the Sea-To-Sky highway.

Nor are there reasonable free alternatives to the two bridges. The Pattullo simply can’t handle much more traffic at peak times, and the Alex Fraser Bridge is also very crowded. Getting to it is a challenge during busy times.

Highway 99 may be an alternative for a few South Langley and South Surrey residents, but only if their final destination is somewhere close to the west side of Vancouver.

The net result of bridge tolls may well be that people move closer to their jobs and avoid optional trips across the Fraser. This could provide a welcome boost for local businesses.

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