B.C.’s new NDP government has acted on its campaign promise to eliminate bridge tolls thanks to an August 25 announcement from Premier John Horgan.
The tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be removed on September 1.
“We're taking immediate action to make life more affordable and get people moving by scrapping unfair tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges,” Horgan said.
“This is just one of many steps we'll be taking in the coming weeks and months to make life easier for families throughout British Columbia.”
The move is expected to save families who regularly have to cross the Fraser River an average $1,500 a year, according to the province. Commercial drivers averaging one crossing a day are expected to save about $4,500 per year.
Horgan's partner in government, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, immediately criticized Horgan's move as being "profoundly troubling from a policy perspective."
He added that eliminating the tolls will come at a cost:
•180 jobs lost;
•$86 million for the rest of 2017/18 and $135 million annually thereafter for the Port Mann bridge; and
•$34 million for the rest of 2017/18 and likely more than $120 million annually thereafter for the Golden Ears bridge.
Because the Golden Ears Bridge is owned by Translink, the government will have to negotiate a long-term solution, Weaver said.
“The outstanding debt for the Port Mann Bridge is $3.6 billion; the outstanding debt for the Golden Ears Bridge is $1.1 billion,” said Weaver. “$4.7 billion will now be moved from self supporting debt to taxpayer supported debt.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said she understands the government's move to eliminate the tolls.
“The focus now needs to be on how to fund the present and future transit and transportation infrastructure needs for Metro Vancouver. Mobility Pricing is an option that needs to be explored,” she said.
BC Liberal transportation critic Jordan Sturdy and finance critic Shirley Bond, meanwhile, say they are concerned that the elimination of tolls does not consider the long-term financial implications and effects on the province’s AAA credit rating.
“Immediately removing tolls from these two bridges is going to cost $132 million this fiscal year,” said Sturdy.
“We know that it will cost at least $135 million per year for the foreseeable future to cover lost tolling revenue just on the Port Mann Bridge. The government also hasn’t indicated how much revenue will be lost from the TransLink-owned Golden Ears Bridge and who will pay the bill.”