Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Toll bridges and taxpayer subsidies: prioritizing transportation investments

No matter whether federally, provincially, or locally, the list of infrastructure and services that can be provided by government is larger than funding available. One of the difficult choices that elected representatives must make is to prioritize where investments are made.

This is especially true when it comes to our transportation network. In Metro Vancouver, there is the region’s vision as articulated in the Mayors’ Council Regional Transportation Vision. There is also the provincial vision which is focused on freeways and bridges.

Road pricing, such as tolling, is an important tool for funding transportation infrastructure and reducing congestion. While tolling covers some of the cost of transportation infrastructure, every new bridge or kilometre of highway requires an increase in taxpayer subsidy. This is true of some transit investments as well.

Not surprisingly, the bigger the bridge, the bigger the subsidy. For example, the Golden Ears Bridge cost to build was $808 million, and was subsidized to the tune of $45 million in 2015.

Golden Ears Bridge taxpayer subsidy from 2011 to 2015. Select chart to enlarge.

The Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 project cost $2.46 billion to build, and was subsidized to the tune of $82 million in 2016.

Port Mann Bridge taxpayer subsidy from 2011 to 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

The proposed Massey Bridge is going to cost north of $3.5 billion to build, and even with a toll, will have a higher subsidy than the Golden Ears Bridge or Port Mann.

The Mayors’ transportation vision currently has a provincial funding gap of $50 million per year. This plan funds a lot more than one bridge.

Breakdown of major components of Mayors' Plan, and where funding for each component is coming from. Source: Fair Share Funding for 10-Year Transit & Transportation Plan.

Like I said earlier, when it comes to investment decisions and government, it is all about prioritization. It seems that the provincial government has prioritized the Massey Bridge. That wouldn’t have been the decision I made.

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