Thursday, June 8, 2017

Who will pick up the tab to replace the Pattullo Bridge? The old bridge will be closed to traffic by 2023

Many bridges in Metro Vancouver have been replaced over the last few decades, and I’ve questioned many of the business cases for these replacement programs. That being said, I believe there are two bridges that need to be replaced: the Pattullo Bridge and the Fraser River Rail Bridge beside it.

Both these bridges are well beyond their engineered life. The regionally-owned Pattullo Bridge is on life-support. TransLink is doing what it can to keep the bridge open to traffic, and is currently spending $55 million to keep the bridge deck from crumbling into the Fraser River.

These repairs are temporary. The Pattullo Bridge will be closed by 2023 or sooner if determined by inspectors. Due to the time it takes to build a new bridge, if construction hasn’t started in the spring of 2019 on its replacement, there is a high probability that there will be a period of time where people will simply have to use the Alex Fraser or Port Mann if they need to drive between New Westminster and Surrey. There will be no Pattullo Bridge option.

The Mayors’ Council recently released the following timeline which must be adhered to ensure that there will always be a road bridge between New Westminster and Surrey.

Timeline for replacing the Pattullo Bridge to ensure continuous road access between New Westminster and Surrey. Select timeline to enlarge.

For this timeline to work, funding must be secured by the fall of this year. With the possible change in government, this brings up an interesting questions about how it will be funded.

Before election day, the provincial government committed to funding one-third of the capital costs of the bridge replacement. The federal government could provide additional capital funding through their new Canadian Infrastructure Bank, and other programs. The remaining capital funding and on-going operational funding was to be paid for by tolls.

The apparent government in waiting has promised to eliminate tolls which will also remove the major funding source for this replacement project.

In the future, our region could move to comprehensive mobility pricing, but in the meantime that funding hole will need to be plugged. During the election campaign, the NDP promised to address the funding shortfall. I hope they stick to that commitment.

It appears that the mayors are also willing to use property tax to temporarily plug the funding shortfall, but that is risky. Most things that are temporary end up being permanent. If property tax is used to fund the Pattullo Bridge that could leave less money available for other major road network projects in our region.

The Pattullo Bridge is going to be replaced. I just hope that the provincial government works with the region to ensure that property tax isn’t used as the final solution for funding it. Otherwise, property tax will need to increase to pay for other regional road projects, or those other road projects will need to be deferred.

No comments: