Editorial: Weighing the cost of free crossings

For Langley commuters, it seems almost too good to be true that, come Sept. 1, it will cost nothing to cross the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

But if, as the saying goes, it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

While we applaud Premier John Horgan for sticking to an election promise and executing that promise swiftly, we do know, of course, that the money to pay for two sparkly new bridges will eventually come out of our pockets somehow.

While those details are being worked out hundreds of thousands of commuters who live on either side of the Fraser will be getting a huge break in their yearly transportation costs.

The average full-time worker commuting from Langley to downtown Vancouver or Langley to Maple Ridge will save roughly $1,500 a year.

That will help take some of the sting out of other high costs associated with living in Metro Vancouver — including kids’ activities, property taxes, insurance, gas and groceries — and the list goes on.

It has always been a source of frustration and, frankly, outrage, for residents of this area that those of us who live out in the suburbs have to pay a toll to cross bridges.

It was highly unfair that those living in Delta could freely travel across the Alex Fraser Bridge without paying a toll, or those living in North Vancouver had two bridges to choose from — both available free of charge.

Many of the people now living in Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have moved here because the cost of housing is more affordable than it is in Burnaby, Coquitlam and, of course, Vancouver.

Even renting in those municipalities is not feasible for most families.

By living in the ’burbs, many people are already sacrificing family time to commute to and from work each week. Then to add a toll onto that lengthy commute was adding insult to injury.

So, for now, let us suburbanites enjoy the extra cash flow in our households.

Residents from the north side of the river are now more likely to make their way to Langley, where they can take advantage of a wider array of shopping choices.

At the same time, the removal of the tolls will probably also increase demand for housing in communities closest to the bridges, driving prices even higher than the staggering numbers we are already experiencing.

The Golden Ears Bridge will no doubt become a lot more congested in the coming weeks and those who have avoided the Port Mann will now be using that bridge on a regular basis.

One thing is certain, regular crossers or not, whether in cash or in congestion, we will all pay for the removal of the tolls.

We can only hope that in the long run, the benefits outweigh the costs.