METRO VANCOUVER -- Deltans better get ready for a traffic nightmare later this year.
Delta North NDP MLA Guy Gentner had that warning as the new Port Mann Bridge, which will be a tolled crossing, is set to open this December.
"They have no idea how many toll evaders there will be. If they're charging three bucks one way and six (dollars) per day, that's up to $1,500 a year or more. People can do the math," Gentner said.
The impacts on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges recently made news when it was announced signage would be installed letting motorists know about the free alternatives.
Currently, the only tolled crossing in the region is the Golden Ears Bridge. The Ministry of Transportation says tolls will be implemented on new projects only as long as there are free alternatives.
When the Port Mann opens, Gentner said, it won't be surprising to see heavier traffic on the narrow and unsafe Pattullo, but many not wanting to use that crossing will decide to use the Alex Fraser, he said, noting it's inevitable many may then decide to avoid that traffic by heading to the George Massey Tunnel.
"The toll evaders, and I don't blame them, are going to want to get to points in Burnaby and Vancouver using the other crossings. They'll find their way to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Nordel interchange (to the Alex Fraser Bridge) is going to be a parking lot, in light of the fact they aren't even putting in proper ramps there but traffic lights.
"The argument made years ago why there was no tolls on the Sea to Sky (highway) was because there was no alternate ways to get there. Basically, south of the Fraser, we're held hostage because we don't have proper transit service. It's going to be a horrible place to be at 7 a.m. or 3 to 6 p.m. It's just going to end up pushing more traffic out to the tunnel."
The ministry says the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project (PMH1) is designed to address growing regional congestion and improve the movement of people, goods and transit throughout Greater Vancouver.
According to an assessment done during the environmental assessment for PMH1, over the long term drivers will want to take advantage of the convenience and travel time savings by using the new bridge.
Modeling assessing the anticipated diversion to the Alex Fraser and Pattullo bridges found that by 2021 there would be approximately one per cent more daily traffic on the Pattullo and two per cent less traffic on the Alex Fraser with PMH1.
Within the limitations of traffic forecasting, this effectively represents no change, the report notes.
"Since the analysis shows virtually no change in daily travel demand across the alternate bridges, this suggests that as many people divert to the improved Port Mann Bridge as divert away from it over the course of a day," the report sates.
The forecasting did not extend to the George Massey Tunnel.
"How can you do modeling for the Alex Fraser if you don't know the complete scenario? It's going to be a mess," Gentner added.
The idea of region-wide tolling on all the crossings also recently made news when Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and New Westminster's Wayne Wright suggested a system of smaller tolls spread throughout roads and bridges in the region.
Provincial Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, responding to media questions following a meeting with the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, said there is "no indication" the Liberal government is about to alter its tolling policy.
However, he stopped short of saying tolls would never be implemented, especially if regional mayors bring forward a formal proposal to use them to fund much-needed transportation and transit projects.
A TransLink report for the mayors examining potential revenue streams, including tolling major bridges and the tunnel, concluded that up to $100 million could be raised annually by charging $1.60 per crossing on vehicles.
Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, vice-chair of the Mayors' Council, in an interview with the Optimist said the pros and cons of region-wide tolling need to be examined and discussed, including how it would be implemented and what revenues it could generate.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said people on the south side of the Fraser River would end up bearing the brunt compared to Vancouver residents, who already enjoy better transit services.
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