Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Survey says provincal policy driving truck traffic to Pattullo Bridge

Transportation Canada, the BC Ministry of Transportation, and TransLink recently released their 2014 “Metro Vancouver Truck Classification and Dangerous Goods Survey.” This comprehensive survey examined select truck routes throughout the region to find out the volume of truck traffic along those routes. The study also quantified how many of those trucks are carrying dangerous good, and what the classification of those dangerous goods were along the surveyed routes.

The survey report is over 320 pages long; page 18 examines truck volumes across Fraser River and Pitt River crossings with survey results from 2008 and 2014.

Total Truck Volumes Across Major River Crossings, 2008-2014. Select table or chart to enlarge.

While not surprising, the survey confirms that the toll on the Port Mann Bridge has caused a major diversion of truck traffic onto the Pattullo Bridge. Trucks using the Port Mann Bridge pay either a $6.30 or $9.45 toll depending on the size of the truck.

The Port Mann Bridge saw a massive 20.9% plunge in truck traffic while the Pattullo Bridge saw a massive 15.1% increase in truck volumes between 2008 and 2014. Unfortunately, the failing Pattullo Bridge had the largest increase in both percentage and absolute volume of all the bridges surveyed.

This is bad news for a number of reasons. Heavy truck traffic causes more wear to transportation infrastructure than cars. This is why the toll in higher for trucks crossing the Port Mann Bridge. Driving heavy truck traffic onto the Pattullo Bridge causes further stress to a bridge that is already about to fall into the Fraser River.

The provincial tolling policy of only tolling new crossings like the Port Mann Bridge shifts heavy truck traffic from provincial to local roads and crossings. This not only increases congestion on local roads, but also shifts the damage caused by trucks from provincially funded roads to locally funded roads. The tolling policy indirectly allows the provincial government to further download transportation costs to the region.

While removing the toll from the Port Mann Bridge would be a bad idea, it is time for TransLink to toll all its major crossings. For example, TransLink could put a nominal toll on the Pattullo Bridge for light-duty vehicles such as cars, vans, and pickups. It could also places a toll on heavy trucks similar to the tolls paid to cross the Port Mann Bridge. This sort of tolling policy would drive heavy truck traffic back to provincial roads and crossings. Not only would this help extend the life of the Pattullo Bridge, but it would also allow TransLink to start banking money for the eventual replacement of the bridge. The policy would reduce truck volumes through New Westminster, giving residents in that community a better quality of life.

Whether it is transit or roads, it seems that provincial transportation policy is designed to offload the cost of funding the transportation system in Metro Vancouver from the provincial government to local governments.

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