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$3-Billion Plan

Infrastructure work to end gridlock would include twinning the Port Mann Bridge

Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

VICTORIA -- A $3-billion plan aimed at staving off gridlock in the Lower Mainland will be revealed today, with plans for more and bigger bridges, wider and longer highways and more green-friendly bicycle lanes for the next decade and beyond.

But the B.C. government warns that if Vancouver and its satellite cities want to avoid becoming the Los Angeles of the North, they'd better start reining in their love for cars. It wants them to fork out tolls every time they take their vehicles across that vital link over the Fraser River -- the Port Mann Bridge.

In the future, concludes a report obtained by The Vancouver Sun, drivers who cross a revitalized Port Mann Bridge should pay about $2.50 per crossing. That will be collected from credit cards through electronic tolls, or, for those who aren't registered, through cameras taking snapshots of their licence plates, with the bill being sent to them later.

"A potential toll on the Port Mann Bridge could be in the order of $2.50 each way for private vehicles," says the government's executive summary of the plan, which will be put to public hearings.

But even as it tries to control the use of cars, the government is planning some major expenditures to make it easier for those who must use them to get in and out of the city.

Premier Gordon Campbell will unveil these big-ticket items today:

- $1.5 billion: This is for the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the highway that leads to it.

This includes construction of an additional two lanes on Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge twinning, which will mean a second, new bridge supported by cables.  It includes bicycle lanes and an engineering plan allowing for the future inclusion of a light-transit railway line when merited by the population and traffic.

- $800 million: This is to build a four-lane, 80 km/h highway on the south shore of the Fraser River, from Delta to the Golden Ears Bridge, with a connection to the important trade artery of Highway 1.

- $400 million. This is for the North Fraser Perimeter Road, an improved highway from New Westminster to Maple Ridge. It will include a new seven-lane bridge to replace the Pitt River swing bridges, which will ease flow into existing highways.

- $300 million. This is for a contingency fund in case the projects go over budget.

The B.C. government has not yet said if it will be using free-market partners -- the so-called private, public P-3 partnerships -- to build the new roadways and bridges. That will likely subject it to scrutiny from the New Democratic Party, which believes P3 partnerships are more costly to taxpayers in the long run.

The executive summary of the government's Gateway Program report says the Lower Mainland's new network will save the British Columbia economy anywhere from $500 million to $1.5 billion because of increased efficiency in commuter and commercial transportation costs and lost time to workers.

While there may be debate about the architecture of the new roadways and bridges, the provincial government believes there's no real challenge to the economic argument.

"The initial cost estimate of the predesign concepts is in the range of $3 billion," the government report says. "Based on quantifiable benefits and costs, the [project] has a strong business case, with benefit-to-cost ratio of 3 to 1."

But the government also is proposing some disincentives to using the car.

It will spend $50 million on bike paths to encourage people to use bicycles when possible. The expenditure will be the biggest in B.C. for a regional cycling network, setting a precedent to encourage municipalities to link bicycle networks to major highways.

The government is also hoping to get more commuters into the same car. It hopes that tolls will be weighted in favour of the conscientious commuter and mean the investment in the Port Mann Bridge would mean less congestion for decades, rather than a few years.

"The rate [toll] for trucks could, if implemented, be higher, while the rate for motorcycles could be lower...," the government proposes, suggesting that night-time users could even cross for free.

"This proposed tolling option, combined with improved transit service, HOV lanes, transit and commercial vehicle priority access facilities, would keep bridge congestion below current levels until 2031 or beyond."

Without the discipline of tolls, the government argues, the benefits of the $1.5-billion project would be mostly eliminated.

"If the improved highway is not effectively managed through tolls and/or other congestion-reduction measures, analysts show that would reach current level of congestion five to 10 years after project completion."

mcernetig@png.canwest.com

MAKING CONNECTIONS

The province's Gateway plan slated for release today includes three main components:

- $1.5 billion

For the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge (circled, above).

- $800 million

For the South Fraser Perimeter Road (brown), a proposed four-lane 80-kilometre route along the south side of the Fraser River

- $400 million

For the North Fraser Perimeter Road (green), improvements to existing roads to provide a continuous route from New Westminster to Maple Ridge.

THE GATEWAY PROGRAM:

Three main components of the provincial government's $3 billion Gateway Program to expand road capacity throughout Greater Vancouver:

1. South Fraser Perimeter Road: A proposed four-lane 80-kilometre route along the south side of the Fraser River, from Deltaport Way in Delta to the connector road leading to the proposed Golden Ears Bridge at the Langley-Surrey border. To
be completed by 2012. Cost: $800 million.

2. North Fraser Perimeter Road: Improvements to existing roads to provide a continuous route from New Westminster to Maple Ridge. Cost: Includes a new seven-lane bridge to replace the existing Pitt River swing bridge and an improved interchange at Lougheed Highway and the Mary Hill Bypass. To be completed by 2009. Cost: $400 million.

3. Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1: Twinning of the bridge and adding one lane to Highway 1 in each direction between Vancouver and Langley. To be completed by 2013. The new bridge, to be built immediately west of the existing one, would
accommodate transit, pedestrians, cyclists and future light rail transit. Cost: $1.5 billion.

Consquences of not twinning: Traffic backs up five km during morning rush at the Port Mann bridge to 176th Street.  By 2011 this congestion is expected to increase to 12 kilometres -- as far as 200th Street.

By 2021, traffic could back up as far as 17 kilometres, to 246th Street.

By 2011 this congestion is expected to increase to 12 km -- as far as 200th.

By 2021, traffic could back up as far as 17 km, to 216th Street.

Source: vancouver Sun

THE PRICE OF POPULARITY:

If you think the Lower Mainland's gridlock can't get any worse, consider what the newest government report says about what awaits Port Mann Bridge users if nothing is done to make the bridge bigger or reduce traffic:

2003: Back then, it was just a five-km lineup to get on the bridge at rush-hour's peak.

2011: By this date, commuters will probably face a 12-km lineup.

2021: It will be a 17-km-long wait at the Port Mann, according to planners. Yes, Dorothy, you're still in Langley though you really want to be in Burnaby or Vancouver.

Here are some other salient facts commuters might want to ponder, courtesy of the government's latest report on commuter reality:

Current cost of congestion to truckers in the Lower Mainland is $500 million a year, according to the B.C. Trucking Association.

Transport Canada estimates the total extra transportation costs from congestion passed onto commuters is $1.5 billion.

The current Port Mann Bridge is considered to be congested for 13 hours a day.  Its traffic is greater than that on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

The future is getting crowded: The Lower Mainland's population has grown from 750,000 to 2.1 million in the last 20 years. By 2031, it will be 3 million.

By 2031, the government's planners estimate, 25 to 40 per cent more commuters will need to be part of rush hour.

The Vancouver Sun 2006




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©2005 Citizens Concerned with Highway Expansion