Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Unscientific opinion poll is the foundation of the new Port Mann Bridge

with one comment

Vaughan Palmer in the Vancouver Sun once again misses the main point about the Port Mann Bridge. He now says that the government set the toll based on feedback from its public consultation.

The question asked was

“Please indicate how much you agree with … a potential toll (to reduce congestion and limit growth in traffic on the Port Mann Bridge) of $2.50 each way for private vehicles.”

And 56 percent of those submitting answers agreed to some degree.

This is pretty much what you would expect from this kind of feedback. A very similar answer was received when Translink asked Albion Ferry users if they would be willing to pay a toll on a new bridge that would mean they no longer had to wait in line ups and got them across the river more quickly. And as a reality check the amount to be charged was tested in the regional transportation model against a fairly standard measure of the value of time (half the average regional wage hourly wage rate). Though Translink does its market research much more carefully than the province of BC appears to have done in this case.

The justification inserted into the question is a notable departure from the official stated policy on road tolls – which is that they can only be applied to a new facility and only for as long as needed to pay off the capital debt incurred to build it. There also has to be a toll free alternative – which now looks like being the Alex Fraser bridge as the replacement for the Patullo will also be tolled.

But at least he is still on the case. Perhaps this is one of a planned series of articles and soon we can expect trenchant analysis of the failure of widened freeways to relieve traffic congestion, the impact of new freeway capacity on land use or the shoddy way that the environmental assessment glossed over a number of significant issues. Even better would be a quick and dirty guesstimate of how much new transit service could be put into place for the same sort of expenditure and how much more effective that would be at relieving congestion and stimulating the local economy. While bridge building provides a one time shot in the arm by its construction phase, transit spending lasts much longer as capital is only around 12% of total lifetime costs of say buying and running an enlarged fleet of buses.

The cost benefit analysis of the bridge was of course based on outdated costs. The project now is rather more than double what it was – and yet no-one could seriously suggest that the benefits have increased by anything like as much.

The project has become bloated – and much of the benefit will be siphoned off into profits for the private sector partners. They would not be willing to bid on it if they did not think they were going to make money. So we will end up paying – through taxes, tolls and the lost opportunity to spend the current 1/3 the province is going to put up on more sensible investments, with earlier and bigger paybacks.

But give Mr Palmer credit for keeping the story going becuase it is headlines like this that stick in the mind – hopefully until election time.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 7, 2009 at 7:18 am

Posted in Gateway

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One Response

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  1. An explanation of the price for the project was set out in the other Port Mann Bridge article in the Vancouver Sun today:

    “Total Port Mann cost always near $3 billion, official says”

    http://www.vancouversun.com/Total+Port+Mann+cost+always+near+billion+official+says/1263805/story.html

    Ron C.

    February 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm


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