The tolls that are now charged on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges should be extended to other Lower Mainland crossings so motorists are treated more fairly across the region.
That’s one of the recommendations from the Business Council of B.C. in a white paper it has released on the need to build much more infrastructure in the province and seek new ways of financing it.
It warns TransLink’s plan to toll a rebuilt Pattullo Bridge in the years ahead may force reform of the current practice of only tolling new or replacement crossings as they are built.
“The imposition of a third toll for a Fraser River crossing may be problematic and would exacerbate concerns over intra‐regional equity with respect to the user‐pay principle for transportation services,” the report says.
“This makes it more urgent to look to longer‐term and more equitable solutions to tolling and road‐use fees as a tool to finance transit and manage road volumes across the region.”
Transportation Minister Todd Stone pledged a review of the province’s tolling policy a year ago but has yet to act.
The province is also designing a new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel. Stone hasn’t yet spelled out how he would seek public consent to toll that crossing.
Metro Vancouver mayors want to eventually adopt road pricing, which could involve per kilometre fees on major routes rather than just tolls at bridges.
They argue such a system could not only help fund TransLink but allow time-of-day pricing to encourage some drivers to travel at off-peak times and make the entire road system more efficient.
The Business Council of B.C. paper also endorses greater use of “peak-pricing models” – including municipal water metering – but it suggests interim bridge tolling reform may be wiser than pursuit of full road pricing.
“While road pricing may be the most comprehensive approach to demand management, starting with an expanded tolling network (based on low toll charges) across the region may be more manageable and politically achievable,” said the report, which is titled Building B.C. for the 21st Century.
It says the province should reconsider its policy that bans new tolls when a free alternative is unavailable.
Both the public transit and road systems are heavily congested in Metro and need more upgrades, the paper says, noting an expected Lower Mainland population increase of 800,000 by 2031.
It says the most pressing expansion needs are in Surrey and Langley, while also noting intense transit pressure on Vancouver’s Broadway corridor.
Although billions of dollars have gone into port-related gateway infrastructure in recent years, more is needed on that front as well, the report said, adding much funding should come from the federal government, which has more taxation capability than the province.
Gateway priorities include twinning the old railway bridges over the Fraser River at New Westminster and at the Second Narrows.
The report also projects steady growth in container handling will put more pressure on truck routes.
Besides innovative finance options, the report urges the province to develop a long-term infrastructure development strategy so a steady pipeline of projects are being built, increasing investor confidence.