Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shifting Congestion: The Port Mann Bridge and Massey Tunnel

The multi-billion dollar South Fraser Perimeter Road and Highway 1/Port Mann expansion projects were not even completed when the Provincial Government announced that it planned to replace the Massey Tunnel. The Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 project has had a profound effect on our transportation system in the region, and likely not in the way that the province intended.

Tolling was always part of the Port Mann/Highway 1 project. Without tolling, the province couldn’t have afforded to build the project, and the province's own research showed the highway would have filled to capacity in five to ten years. It is no surprise that traffic volume are down across the Port Mann Bridge.

One of the stated goals for Port Mann/Highway 1 project was to reduce congestion. While that may be true along the Highway 1 corridor, congestion has increase along other corridors. I find it amusing that the original Project Definition Report for the Gateway Program stated that “to effect diversion at the Port Mann Bridge, tolls in the range of $5 to $8 per trip would be needed.” In then goes on to say that:

If tolls were introduced on the Port Mann Bridge, it would affect traffic on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges. Some users of the Port Mann Bridge would choose to use these crossings instead of paying a toll. Traffic modeling indicates that the volume of traffic in 2021 would not be appreciably different on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges than it would be if the Gateway Program was not built.

With the completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and accompanying signage on the Highway 1 corridor, the province is practical telling people to take the Pattullo Bridge.

Back when the Gateway Program started, Metro Vancouver and TransLink had major concerns about the project. They would only support the program if, among other things, there was an “introduction of tolls and other transportation pricing mechanisms to fund, manage demand and promote efficiency in the use of the transportation system.” The region also wanted to ensure that the province did not promote the Pattullo Bridge as a free alternative to the Port Mann. Of course, the province didn’t listen to the requests from the region.

Metro Vancouver also has concerns around the province’s plan to replace the George Massey Tunnel, and has asked TransLink to put together a comprehensive analysis on the effects it could have on our regional transportation network.

What I find interesting is that in the Gateway Project Definition Report, the province acknowledges that “to capture sufficient benefits [from replacing the Massey Tunnel] would also require improvements to other crossing over the North Arm of the Fraser River such as the Oak Street or Knight Street bridge, or a new crossing to serve projected commuting patterns associated with employment growth in central Burnaby.” Of course that would also mean widening roads in Vancouver and Burnaby which would be impossible.

Of top of that, if the Massey Tunnel replacement is tolled (which it will need to be), more congestion will result on the Alex Fraser Bridge as it will promoted as the free alternative.

If the province was really serious about reducing congestion in Metro Vancouver, it would allow region-wide tolling and would also support improving transit. System-wide tolling and transit has been proven the world over to actually reduce congestion. Sadly, I think the Massey Tunnel is simply good ol’ BC blacktop politics as even the province's own documents say it will have limited benefit to the region.

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