Posts Tagged ‘Port Mann Bridge’
Once again I got a last minute plea from the CBC to appear on the evening news to talk about the announcement of an increase in tolls next month. It seemed to me that there was little to say, and that over an hour’s travel for a few minutes screen time not very productive, but they sent a camera man to Arbutus Village and I stood in the park. I did not know that the new technology they use relies on the cell phone network, which is why those trucks with dish antennas are no longer needed. When my segment got broadcast it was very obviously cut short as the sign off was missing. I had been asked what the solution was to increasing tolls – and clearly the CBC did not like the answer. I had managed to get in a shot at how the much vaunted lowest income tax in Canada has been brought about by increases in all kinds of fees and charges – tolls, MSP premiums, ferry fares – and how wages were not keeping pace with the increasing cost of of living in the region.
But it was only later that I realized that I had missed on a real solution. My moment d’escalier was the memory of how people coped with tolls (and SOV line ups) on the Golden Gate Bridge by forming last minute car pools. These days no-one has to risk anything by lining up at on ramps. You can – of course – do it on-line. If the increase from $3.00 to $3.15 a crossing is a real issue for you go check out car pool, rideshare and van pool information on Translink ‘s web page. You can easily avoid the congestion on the Patullo and halve the cost of the toll. You can also share rides on Hitch Planet.
There were a couple of graphics that I had sent the CBC producer that did not make it to air, which is a shame. The first is a good effort by Jeff Nagel using recent data to show how people have been gradually getting used to paying $3. I personally doubt the $0.15 will cause much more than a short term blip, but I do think people are right to expect more increases in future. The toll company blames their rising operating costs – but if interest rates start increasing that will be the real stimulus for faster toll rises.
The second one is a bit older, and is from Sightline, and shows how the real traffic data compares to the forecasts
The red line should just dribble across a bit further. It certainly has not been sticking up like the forecasters thought.
The mainstream media is full of the reduction in tolls announced by the Minister of Transport yesterday. Laila Yuile, on Huffington Post, sees it as bait and switch – a blatant and possibly fruitless attempt to get back lost BC Liberal votes. But her opening paragraph really gave me pause
The Port Mann Bridge project has been steeped in controversy from its humble beginnings as an economically prudent plan to twin the existing bridge at a cost of $1.5 billion to what we’ve ended up with today: a completely new bridge and highway project totaling $3.3 billion financed through tolls.
First it was never, ever “economically prudent”. It was based on misdirection – that somehow the traffic jam of cars every day was threatening the competitiveness of the Port of Vancouver. The truckers were always front and centre of this argument. This fiction was fairly easy to dismiss. Most of the tonnage moving through the port is bulk commodities that come in by rail – and pipeline (of course but lets not get distracted). The container imports also move by rail – except for those destined for distribution facilities which tend to be located on cheap land at some distance from the port terminals.
What the intention was – always – was to widen the freeway from the Vancouver boundary to the Abbotsford boundary. The Port Mann bridge was never a standalone project. It might have been defensible if it had simply been a removal of a bottleneck to free up short distance movements between Surrey and Coquitlam (which is what most of the traffic over the bridge does in reality). But all that is planned is to replace a small bottleneck with a bigger bottle. The number of lanes on the bridge was always less than those leading on to it – and that will still be the case afterwards. There will just be more of both.
The Gateway made the idea of freeway expansion palatable because it was wrapped up in rhetoric about economic growth and increased competitiveness. The reality was different.
Kevin Falcon was a developer before he became a politician. There has always been a strong lobby against the regional plan which was seen as restricting what developers could do south of the Fraser. In fact, it made very little difference, as Doug McCallum ably demonstrated when Mayor of Surrey – and Chair of Translink. He easily duplicated the spread of big box retail along Highway 99 to replicate what was already in place in Whatcom County along I5. Junction “improvements” on both Highways 1 and 99 were funded by deals with developers on what had been land reserved for highway expansion adjacent to the intersections. And the sprawl of supposedly “affordable” housing (“drive till you qualify”) continued unabated. Kevin ran for election using funds raised at breakfasts attended by the real estate community who he encouraged to “get on board”. The highway expansion would enable them to build more of what they has always built and they knew they could sell. What made them really nervous was talk of transit and transit oriented development – for they were unfamiliar with both. Rail for the Valley was pretty much a hopeless case. Not that it could not have been done physically or financially – just that it was a hard sell to the money men. The people who fund the BC Liberals and pick their preferred candidates.
To those of us who travel the bridge, it had been clear for years something needed to be done to address the gridlock on both ends. Public transportation south of the Fraser is horrific during the week and nearly non-existent in some areas on the weekend, making vehicles mandatory for most.
At least she declares her interest. We know that the only effective way to address “gridlock” is to reduce peak demand for single occupant vehicle travel. In the short term the only way to do that is to price car use, and increase transit supply. In the longer term, denser and more mixed land use – served by walkable and bikeable routes – is the way to break the linkage between growth and sprawl. Again, really attractive transit has to be part of the mix. The provision of billions of dollars of provincial funding for highway expansion – and the new bridge – is one of the reasons why there is a crisis in funding for transit. It does look like there will be a rapid bus service of some sort when the new Port Mann opens but the only way that can be funded is by cutting service elsewhere.
There are options – there always are – always were. Just most of them get rejected. The BC Liberals kept dancing around insisting that there had to be more local funding – mostly because they always wanted to tap into property tax some more. And the insistence on looking for more efficiencies was always a good distraction. As was fare evasion: actually only 4% of riders have no ticket and the revenue loss is less than that. But somehow much money and attention can be thrown at that “problem” – but nothing to deal with overcrowding other than diversion of existing resources. And the idea of increasing transit service were it is currently inadequate or non-existent just does not get onto the radar because the places that already have good transit want more.
I can understand Laila’s anger – and her choice of target. It is just all too short term. I do not expect the BC Liberals to win – as the latest polls confirm. The problem is that afterwards it is going to be very hard to reverse the land use changes already in train as a result of the decision to widen the freeway. The type of development we are seeing – and will see – is not going to be sustainable, transit oriented or readily convertible. Land uses in Coquitlam and Vancouver will change a bit once the Evergreen and the UBC lines open – but not by nearly enough to shift the region’s mode split by very much. South of the Fraser is car country now – and still will be – and all of the emphasis is going to have to be how to make those cars less of a problem. So expect a lot more attention on car sharing, alt fuels and electric vehicles – none of which individually has much impact and even collectively is little more than a band aid. The systemic problem of car dependance will remain even if we can overcome some of our fondest held beliefs – like car ownership and not sharing rides (not getting into cars with strangers) and the need to limit access to the public transport market.
The tolls – which after a year will go back up to $3 a crossing – will have some impact on restraining demand for car trips between Surrey and Coquitlam. They might even get better at pricing strategies than they have so far on the Golden Ears, which has plenty of underused capacity at peak periods. But it will have no impact at all on car use on the rest of the Highway. There will be no toll for a trip between Vancouver and Burnaby, New Westmister or Coquitlam. No-one will pay a toll between Surrey and Langley. And there will be a lot of lane space that will quickly fill up – even if some people will be making longer (but perceived to be “faster”) trips to use that new space. Yes, car use in the region has declined a bit – but mostly in places where there is an alternative. Along Highway 1 – until it fills up again – car use will grow. And that means a lot more traffic on the local road network that feeds the freeway. And more pressure from neighbourhoods to spend money on frustrating the through traffic, rather than spending money on better alternatives for local trips.
Laila is, I think, right in that this obvious tactic will misfire. But that is not the real issue. How do we now persuade people that it is worth spending more money on a transit system that is so blatantly organized to favour part of the region at the expense of the rest?
Vancouver, BC – “The BC government’s proposed solution to congestion on the Highway 1/Port Mann corridor cannot succeed” according to a new report released today by local business consultant Evan Robinson, MBA.
When the Public-private partnership to build the bridge fell through earlier this year, Premier Gordon Campbell decided to borrow money on behalf of the province to build the bridge. Campbell claimed that the project would be revenue neutral because tolls would cover the cost within the timeline of the 40 year maintenance plan.
The report entitled The Port Mann Mega Bridge – Taking it’s Toll on the Tax Payer, shows that BC residents will still be paying for the proposed new Port Mann mega-bridge even after it’s older than the current 40 year-old bridge.
We took a close look at traffic and revenue projections, and it’s clear we simply cannot both break even financially and reduce congestion over 40 years. The two outcomes are completely incompatible. If traffic grows enough to pay for the bridge with tolls, there will be too much traffic for the bridge to carry,” said Robinson.
“We have been working with Evan and others with a background in business and economics to see if the province’s numbers add up, and we have learned that not only does this project not make ecological sense but it doesn’t make economic sense either,” said Ben West, Healthy Communities campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
The Wilderness Committee along with other groups has raised concerns about increased global warming carbon emissions as the result of the Gateway project highway expansion which includes the Highway 1/Port Mann expansion. Currently 35% of BC’s emissions come from automobiles, the single biggest source.
“Relying upon toll revenue builds in an incentive to increase automobile usage, but even if we double traffic over the new bridge it won’t cover the cost, and doubling the traffic leaves us idling in place just like the commuters on the Port Mann do every day. This sort of investment is the opposite of what we need to do if we are serious about reducing traffic congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing our dependence upon a dwindling supply of fossil fuels,” said Robinson who is a member of the Vancouver Peak Oil Network executive.
“If this project goes forward as planned we will be paying the price for decades to come in more ways than one. There’s just no way it works out right,” said West.
Of course this is exactly what opponents of the Gateway always said would happen.
“The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.
“It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”
And for the Mayor that seems like a Good Thing. For many however, it seems like a very Bad Thing indeed. For a start the freeway between Langley and Abbotsford runs through what is currently green space. In many parts of the world that is seen as a desirable quality – and there has been legislation (in the UK and other places) to stop “ribbon development” and the gradual coalescence of places into “megalopolis”. That indeed has been one of the main principles in regional planning of both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
But also very significant is the recognition of the traffic generation this kind of development produces – which is something that the Gateway proponents have tried to ignore or at least downplay: “it happens anyway”. Well you might try telling that to the stores that will close in those places. The amount of time and money that people have to spend shopping is finite. The money that gets spent in Abby Lane won’t get spent elsewhere. You can see this all over North America – in fact, thanks to the economic decline of recent years, the process has accelerated. There are already too many shops – and older malls and town centres have been in steady decline. Even in good times that happens – and one of the features of North American buildings is their very short design life. So when the two new plazas at No 5 Road and Steveston Highway opened, the shopping centre at Shell and Williams closed, was demolished and is now town houses.
Obviously if in future more people from Langley and Chilliwack decide to shop in Abbotsford that is a longer car trip than happens now. That means more pollution – both common air contaminants (the stuff that causes our current air quality advisory) and greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the stuff that means the glaciers melt and the pine beetle thrives. It is not only the polar bears that suffer! And note that this is happening beyond the reach of the Gateway project – which ends at the Langley boundary – although a new hill climber lane is being built westbound out of Abbotsford at present. So of course there will be even more pressure to widen the freeway through Abbotsford and upgrade the interchanges. That is the lesson of everywhere that has widened freeways – it creates the “need” for more widening and is never ending.
Well never ending up to now. Because the other thing that the Mayor is ignoring is that peak conventional oil has passed – and peak oil is close too. So there will not be lots of cheap gas for all those car trips. And maybe in future even the charms of yet another corporate clone big box “power centre” will be much less if if costs too much to get there. This development might not be such a good idea after all. It will certainly cause others to close – but in the not too distant future we may well not be quite so keen on shopping. We may prefer to find happiness in other ways – and relearn how to make things last longer.
It is certainly a choice – and the last election showed that most people are not yet willing to make that change voluntarily. Which means when it does come they are not going to be very happy about it at all. And George Peary could well be the target of their wrath.
To its proponents and its supporters the idea of widening Highway #1 and the Port Mann has always been seen as hugely desirable. While they claim it would relieve traffic congestion, even they concede that it is, at best, a short term fix. But that is because, they think, the gold of property development along its route makes it worthwhile. But we are beginning to realise that this is in fact fairy gold. The conditions that once made low density suburbs worthwhile speculations are now gone – and probably for good.
The province released the news – on Friday afternoon, the best time to bury unfavourable stories – that its P3 with McQuarie bank and its partners has finally collapsed as unfinanceable. Falcon is of course not fazed by this and intends to proceed – using our money and not the banks – anyway. Of course the additional $3bn this will add to provincial indebtedness over th e next few years has not been in any budget or spending estimates.
I would argue that he does not have any authority to proceed. The project now bears little resemblance to its original proposal – or cost estimate. The world has also changed dramatically since then. Or rather many more people have now been forced to recognise the fundamental unreality of the assumptions they were then working on.
Oil is running out – and though cheap now, will not be for much longer. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not some vague commitment to the future but a desperate and immediate need. The idea that we can still truck fresh fruit and veg from California – which faces severe drought and has cut water allocations to farmers – is no longer feasible. Trade in containers from China is way down. Even – dreadful prospect – the price of local real estate is falling. None of the assumptions of the Gateway now hold true.
Yet Flacon still thinks we need his mega highway. And of course we never did – and need it even less now. We do need farmland, clean air and greenhouse gas reductions. We do need alternatives to driving. That means if we can borrow $3bn (and that seems doubtful too) we should not be spending it on roads but on transit. Many more buses – and bus lanes – as well as light rail. Low cost, easy to to construct, quick to deliver solutions that both meet the needs of the present better than freeways ever could but also allow for a denser, transit oriented region. That consumes less fuel, less land and provides a more certain future.
The BC Liberal party tried to pretend it was green with a feeble carbon tax and commitments to nonsense like the hydrogen highway. It is clear now that these ideas are barren. We must change course – and despite what they are claiming it is not at all too late to cancel the entire program and replace it with ideas that work.
The most bogus element of the current proposal is that the new Port Mann could carry light rail in the future. But it is fairly certain that is not intended to be built any time soon – and certainly not on opening day. There is no plan anywhere that shows what this light rail line would look like – where it would go on either side of the bridge. It has not been shown in any plan.
If the Province was serious about dealing with traffic congestion it wouldl have put traffic metering on the on ramps – signals that limit the amount of traffic allowed to join the crowded lanes just before the bridge. These are, oddly enough installed after the bridge already. A bus queue jumper lane could have been built on the hard shoulder northbound in Surrey years ago. One is under construction in Richmond now – so they know how to do it. They just don’t want to. They hope we won’t notice that what this project is all about as usual is property speculation. But Falcon seems not to have noticed that that bubble has burst too. Along with all his other delusions.
The saddest comment is that just before this inevitable announcement, carol James appeared to endorse the widening. A huge mistake. The NDP has now lost all credibility on transport and the environment. If these issues concern you the way they concern me we must turn our attention and our votes elsewhere.
If you really want a green alternative – you have to vote Green next time.
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.