Public on board with Port Mann twinning: Province

COQUITLAM, B.C. — Most Lower Mainland British Columbians support tolling to pay for a newly-twinned Port Mann Bridge, according to a pre-design public consultation report released by the province’s transport ministry.

“The results show that people understand the need for improvements that reduce congestion as our region continues to grow,” said Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon in a press release.

As part of the controversial, $3 billion Gateway Program, the province wants to double capacity of the 41-year-old Port Mann and expand sections of Highway 1 between Vancouver and Langley at a cost of $1.5-billion. It is also proposing a $1.2-billion plan to build bridge facilities and perimeter roads alongside the Fraser River to improve traffic between Burnaby and provincial gateways, such as Delta port.

Twinning the Port Mann is said to relieve some
of the many bottlenecks in the suburb of Coquitlam

Some residents and local politicians vocally oppose the plan, however, arguing it will only add pollution and traffic to the area. Some alternative suggestions include adding a TransLink bus service across the Port Mann Bridge.

According to the report, respondents were specifically consulted on goals for interchange upgrades and draft options for congestion reduction measures such as HOV lanes, transit and commercial vehicle priority access to highway on/off-ramps and improvements to the cycling network. In addition, they were specifically asked if they supported a potential toll on the twinned Port Mann Bridge.

Over 56 percent said they’d support a proposed toll on the Port Mann Bridge, which currently handles about 130,000 vehicles a day. Support increased to 70 percent and higher for a toll combined with options that provide reduced tolls for HOV users, variable tolls for off-peak periods, and toll-free overnight periods, the government says.

Tolling and other traffic demand measures are being considered in various combinations to reduce congestion and limit growth in traffic on the bridge. Government analysis indicates that, without these measures, the improved highway would reach current levels of congestion five to 10 years after project completion. However, with the traffic demand measures, including tolling, in place, the benefits extend for more than 25 years.

“The consequence of not making these improvements include increasing congestion, more pollution from idling vehicles, increased cost to the economy, delayed goods movement, and unreliable transit connections through the region,” said Falcon. “People who travel the Highway 1 corridor told us the project is long overdue and that’s why doing nothing is not an option.”

Despite the vote of confidence from the public, the province doesn’t seem to have the support from the mayor of its biggest city.

Mayor Sam Sullivan opposes the bridge and highway expansion while giving conditional approval to the rest of the Gateway Program, such as new truck routes along both shores of the Fraser River and a new Pitt River Bridge.

However, he admitted this week that it seems there’s little the city can do to stop the Port Mann twinning and Trans-Canada Highway expansion.

— with files from Canadian Press

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