Tolls on Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges to fall under NDP/Green agreement

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Tolls on bridges to fall under joint NDP, Green government

Jennifer Saltman
The Vancouver Sun

NDP Leader John Horgan said eliminating “unfair” tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be part of the first budget he tables if he becomes premier.

On Tuesday, Horgan and Green party Leader Andrew Weaver signed a power-sharing agreement that will see the three Green MLAs support the NDP, which has 41 seats in the legislature, on confidence motions. The Liberals have 43 seats.

At a news conference after the agreement was ratified, Horgan said he and Weaver had “comprehensive” talks, and tolls and road pricing were among the issues discussed. During the election campaign, the NDP promised to axe bridge tolls.

“We’re going to proceed with the elimination of tolls because they’re unfair,” Horgan said.

The elimination of tolls will be part of an NDP budget, which will allow the Greens to speak against the tolls while supporting the budget. The Greens did not promise to cap or get rid of tolls, instead saying they would implement a “rational” tolling system.

“We do not support (the NDP) on the issue of tolls,” Weaver said.

Members of the TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation agree that the current tolling system is unfair and, in some cases, actually makes congestion worse.

“We support the elimination of tolls as long as the lost revenue is reimbursed,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, who chairs the council’s funding strategy committee.

TransLink is counting on tolls or mobility pricing to pay for up to two-thirds of the cost of replacing the 80-year-old Pattullo Bridge between Surrey and New Westminster.

Coté described it as the most urgent issue that the mayors will bring forward to the provincial government.

Weaver and Horgan did not provide details on how the current and future bridges would be financed, however during the campaign the NDP told the mayors’ council that it was “committed to…addressing the shortfall in revenues” for the Pattullo.

The proposed George Massey Tunnel replacement bridge was not mentioned in the agreement, but its future is now in question. Horgan said he and Weaver maintained during the election and in their discussions that they intend to address the issue of congestion at Deas Island, but a bridge is unlikely to be the solution.

“We have to address congestion, but that’s not necessarily the best way forward,” Horgan said.

Preconstruction work has started on the bridge, but Horgan said he plans to consult with Metro Vancouver mayors.

“That’s really good news and it’s exactly the resolution that the Metro Vancouver board passed last year,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who chairs Metro Vancouver’s board of directors. “Maybe people in Victoria are now reading our reports instead of just assuming what they say.”

The mayors — with the exception of Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who has consistently supported the project — expressed serious concerns about bridge as proposed because of its cumulative regional impacts and ongoing concerns about an inadequate stakeholder input process and insufficient access to technical information.

Jackson said she was confused by the decision to consult with the mayors.

“I think referring it to the mayors is not the proper way to go because they will not deal with it. They have dismissed it out of hand,” she said.

When asked whether she thought the bridge would end up being built, she said she is waiting to see how things unfold.

“I have no idea. It’s a bit of a guessing game, I think,” she said.

When it comes to transit funding, the agreement says the parties will “act immediately to improve transit and transportation infrastructure in cooperation with the Mayors’ Council and the federal government” and consult with the mayors to find a better way of funding transit in the long term.

The mayors have lobbied for months to get funding for the second phase of their 10-year transit plan for the region, which includes replacing the Pattullo Bridge, light rail for Surrey and Langley, and the Broadway subway line in Vancouver.

Although there were no details, Coté said the fact that better transit was included in the agreement at all is “a very positive signal.”

“There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to go forward to turn that commitment and accord into real projects,” Coté said.

© 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.

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