The cost of gridlock in Metro Vancouver will be more than $1 billion higher each year by 2045 without transit upgrades that depend on referendum approval of a 0.5 per cent sales tax.

Metro congestion costs to soar without more transit: Study

Longer commutes add up to high price for Metro Vancouver residents, business, according to study from mayors

The cost of traffic congestion in Metro Vancouver – already estimated at $1 billion a year – will soar to $2.8 billion by 2045 without major transit upgrades, according to a study released by the Metro mayors’ council to back the Yes side in the regional transit referendum.

The study by HDR Consulting projected costs from longer commutes – including increased trip times, emissions and wasted fuel – as well as lost productivity and lost opportunities for residents, businesses and the economy.

Underpinning the study is the assumption that a million more residents will come to the region over the next 30 years, and that if the transit service remains frozen they’ll add 600,000 additional vehicles to the road system.

That would moderate to 500,000 extra vehicles if the referendum results in a Yes vote and the upgrades allow more of the newcomers to take transit instead of clogging the roads.

The difference translates into 33 to 40 per cent less in costs from congestion compared to the status quo scenario, although the study found congestion costs will increase even with the mayors’ plan to $1.7 billion by 2045.

The study led by economist David Lewis argues traffic jams raise costs for businesses and makes it harder to succeed, while hindering job opportunities because worsening congestion limits how far workers can reasonably commute.

Less time spent with family can mean higher child-care costs and other personal impacts.

“This quantified what we’re saying happens with another million people – that there’s a personal as well as financial impact to the economy that will affect all of us,” Metro board chair Greg Moore said.

Referendum ballots go out around March 15 and Metro residents have until late May to mail them back with their decision – for or against a 0.5 per cent Metro-only sales tax increase to fund a $7.5 billion raft of improvements.

The mayors’ plan includes major increases in regular and express bus service, more frequent SeaBus, extra West Coast Express cars, more HandyDart service, as well as three major projects – light rail lines in Surrey, a Broadway subway in Vancouver and a new Pattullo Bridge.

Moore said a No vote will leave the region mired in worsening congestion at an ever-mounting cost.

No campaign leader Jordan Bateman called the study “completely flawed” because it assumes there will be absolutely no transportation investment for 30 years.

That’s false, he said, because the province is planning a new bridge at the Massey Tunnel, the Pattullo Bridge can likely be rebuilt with tolls even after a No vote, and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has pledged to find a Plan B to build light rail in Surrey if necessary.

“No one thinks there’s going to be no transportation investment for 30 years with a No vote.”

Moore insisted there’s no other plan on the table that has the backing of the region’s mayors and the provincial government.

“This is the plan and this is the way we’re proposing to fund it.”

Moore said the HDR study factored in construction of the Evergreen Line and an expected Massey Bridge, and only examined the relative effect of the projects proposed to be built with the new sales tax.