To toll or not to toll: that is the Pattullo Bridge question

Business leaders divided on tolling to pay for a new, four-lane Pattullo Bridge

The aging Pattullo Bridge is in dire need of replacement, according to TransLink, which took over responsibility for the bridge from the province in 1999 | JamesChen/Shutterstock

The City of Surrey is supporting a yes vote in this spring’s transit plebiscite, but the local business community remains divided on one crucial question: whether a new Pattullo Bridge should be tolled.

“I can’t answer that question,” Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said at the yes vote announcement at city hall last week. “It’s way too early in the mix, but I can tell you I believe there will be some discussion along the way around fairness within the region.”

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation’s 10-year upgrade plan, which depends on approval of the non-binding transit plebiscite, places high priority on a new four-lane Pattullo Bridge that can be expanded to six lanes to replace the aging one that opened in 1939.

Ownership of the bridge was handed over in 1999 from the province to TransLink and, according to a mayors’ council document, a “subsequent investigation revealed that it is at risk in the event of a moderate earthquake or ship collision, the piers are being undermined by river scour and many components have surpassed their useful lives.”

The document continues by stating the new bridge will be partially paid for by provincial and federal funding, and by “user pricing,” which the mayors’ council further explains as “mobility pricing on roads (such as tolling, distance or usage-based fees).”

Approximately 75,000 vehicles use the Pattullo Bridge every weekday, and 10% of them are commercial vehicles. The mayors’ council estimates a new bridge would cost $978 million – $25 million of which would go to design.

While the Surrey Board of Trade came out in favour of a yes vote, chief executive officer Anita Huberman stresses that the board is against a Pattullo toll bridge. The Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA) also favours a yes vote, but its chief executive officer, Elizabeth Model, said the association has yet to take an official position on the toll issue.

DSBIA chairman James Stewart outlined his personal opinion on the issue in an email:

“Frankly I have not had any business person express a concern about whether the Pattullo would be tolled or not. In my personal opinion, there is a certain logic to all crossings being tolled and for the tolls being reduced by a reasonable amount as a result of the obligation to pay tolls being spread more evenly.

“As is ever the case, the real issue appears to be not so much about if or how the money is to be paid and more about confidence in how it will be spent.”

Many commuters have noticed an increase in traffic on the Pattullo Bridge since the new tolled Port Mann Bridge opened in late 2012. Rates on the Port Mann were raised from $1.50 to $3 in January 2014, and since then traffic has decreased on that bridge, with falling usage numbers every month of 2014 except for December.

Hepner said she will take a deeper look at the toll issue if the yes vote passes.

“In large cities most of them have some type of demand-management analysis – that’s not part of our plan right now. Our focus is on making sure we get this yes vote and get the endorsement for moving the plan forward.”