Tolls far short of costs as drivers shun Golden Ears Bridge

Golden Ears subsidy $33 million this year even with predicted jump in traffic.

The Golden Ears Bridge so far isn't attracting as many users and tolls as expected.

TransLink is counting on a 26-per-cent jump in the number of motorists who will pay to use the Golden Ears Bridge this year but the costs of the bridge will continue to far outstrip the tolls coming in.

Even with the rosier traffic forecast, the transportation authority will still pay out $33 million more than it receives in tolls for the Fraser River crossing connecting Surrey and Langley to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

“We knew for the first few years we would be subsidizing it,” TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said. “But we are subsidizing it more than expected because traffic volumes have not increased to the levels we thought they were going to be.”

TransLink’s budget calls for toll revenue to climb to $37.8 million from $30 million in 2010, the bridge’s first full year of operations.

It gives no rationale for the projected increase when large numbers of motorists continue to refuse to take the tolled crossing.

Even if the number of users rise as fast as hoped, TransLink will remain far short of covering its $71.1 million in costs for 2011 – which consist of a $46.4-million capital payment to the bridge’s private contractor, the $11.9-million operating payment to the contractor and $12.7 million in debt servicing.

Hardie denied the current shortfall represents any risk to taxpayers.

Other projects are under budget and TransLink can absorb the extra bridge subsidy until revenues improve, he said.

“We’re not looking at raising fares or taxes or anything else as a result of the Golden Ears Bridge performance,” he said, adding project is only 18 months into a 30-year contract.

“The cost of the bridge will over time be covered by tolls.”

This year’s shortfall will bring TransLink’s cumulative deficit on funding the new bridge to $63.8 million for the first three years.

The payments to the private partner continue escalating each year until they peak in 2014.

But TransLink expects the revenue picture will change significantly for the Golden Ears Bridge in 2013, when tolls kick in on the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge and it no longer offers an easy free alternative.

“People will make their choice of which bridge to use based on the efficiency of the trip – the time it takes to get where they’re going,” Hardie said.

TransLink also plans a new initiative this year to drum up more Golden Ears users, in part by marketing the time-saving benefits to drivers, especially commercial truckers, who now detour via the Port Mann to avoid the toll.

About 25,000 vehicles a day cross the Golden Ears Bridge, while five times as many use the Port Mann.

Asked whether changes could include adjustments in the toll charged or the adoption of variable time-of-day tolling to attract more users, Hardie said everything is on the table but added it’s too early to provide details.

Base tolls for regular cars with transponders now pay $2.80 ($3.35 or $3.95 for those who don’t have transponders or aren’t registered at all) and that is expected to rise for inflation again this summer.

Unlike other major bridges – including the new Port Mann where the province has opted to borrow the money directly and taxpayers are already shouldering significant costs – a private partner financed and built the $808-million Golden Ears Bridge and will operate and maintain it for 30 years.

There is no federal or provincial money in the bridge, Hardie said.

He also noted the previous costs of operating the former Albion ferries has been used to keep the Golden Ears tolls lower than would otherwise be required.

TransLink still has not sold the two ferries hauled up on the bank of the Fraser although there is one prospective deal in the works.

“We’ve been so close a few times,” Hardie said, adding one deal that fell through would have sent the ferries to South Africa.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hope-raised NHL official among BC Hockey Hall of Fame inductees

Jay Sharrers officiated 1,419 regular NHL games, plus Stanley Cup finals and Olympics

How would crowded Fraser Valley hospitals deal with patient surge? Officials won’t say

Amid coronavirus case and crowding issues, health officials won’t say where more patients would go

Sasquatch Mountain Aussie Day celebration raises $800

Proceeds of bikini runs, toonie tosses and more go to wildfire victims

Artists at Work featured at Hope Arts Gallery in February

Melange 2020 will showcase myriad talents by local artists until Feb. 28

DNA confirms SUV struck and killed Abbotsford cyclist in 2015, court hears

Kerry Froese operated company that owned vehicle that struck and killed Ronald James Scott in 2015

VIDEO: Feds look to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Party bus door fault for years ahead of Langley woman’s death: Coroner

Tuesday report classifed Chelsea James’ death accidental, but was critical of bus inspection process

Sap thief taps Saanich park maple trees, faces hefty fine

One tree found with four taps in Mount Doug Park

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Uber threatens legal action to ‘defend its right’ to operate in Surrey

‘I have no concerns,’ Mayor Doug McCallum replies

Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Bystander who tried to help dog being attacked not liable for its death: B.C. tribunal

Owner of dog killed tried to get $5,000 in damages from man who tried to save it

INFOGRAPHIC: See how fast your B.C. city grew in 2019

The province’s fastest-growing municipalities were located on Vancouver Island

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

Most Read