Pete McMartin critiques the PMB in The Sun:
Port Mann Bridge: It’s better at racking up debt than carrying commuters
Oops. Another shiny new tolled multibillion-dollar bridge, another fiduciary horror story. The twinned Port Mann is better at racking up debt than traffic. …
Not only are traffic numbers headed in the wrong direction, so is the Port Mann’s indebtedness. The Transportation Investment Corp., the Crown corporation responsible for the bridge’s construction, is projecting a debt of $3.61 billion. That single, singular sum is equivalent to 48 per cent of Trans Link’s entire panoply of transit initiatives that Metro Vancouverites will consider in the upcoming plebiscite.
There are some instructive lessons here to be learned. Some of them can be applied to the plebiscite, which, as I have stated repeatedly, I support. These are:
1. Stuff costs money. Making life easier for cars especially costs money. That’s why the bridge was tolled. But drivers still expect a free ride, as if driving a car was somehow different than any other public utility. Those days are over, or soon will be.
2. We need a comprehensive plan, not stopgap measures like the Port Mann. Tolling, of the pick-and-choose variety we have here in Metro Vancouver, does not work. A more comprehensive strategy, like universal road-pricing, will come eventually, but not in the immediate future.
3. Comprehensive road-pricing is, at the very least, a decade out, and probably more because of the reluctance of our provincial government to embrace it, and because of the costs of megaprojects like the Port Mann, which have to be recovered. That takes time.
4. In the meantime, the Trans Link plan is the best alternative to get us from here to there — that, or we can face growing gridlock as our population explodes in the Metro area. To vote no out of anger with the Trans Link executive or on the misinformed notion that there’s nothing in it for your part of the city or because British Columbians are taxed to death (we aren’t) will only end up costing taxpayers more, not less.
5. The entire predicament we are in, transit-wise, has been engineered by the provincial government, although it likes to pretend it’s had nothing to do with it. It wrested local control of Trans Link away from the municipalities and installed the present governance model; it insisted upon a plebiscite before O King the Trans Link plan; it set the terms of the plebiscite and set the ridiculously short time limit for Metro mayors to come up with a comprehensive 10-year plan; it restricted the forms of revenue production Trans Link could use to fund its plan, refusing to consider road-pricing or other forms of revenue that trespassed on its bottom line; it has refused to campaign for the plan so as to distance itself from a popular tax revolt, à la the HST.
Meanwhile, our premier wants her bridge built to replace the Massey tunnel, without going to plebiscite because, well, she can. Cost? A rumoured $3 billion. Reasoning? Purportedly, to relieve traffic congestion, though, incidentally of course, a bridge will do away with that pesky tunnel, which, once gone, will allow deep-draught oceangoing freighters and tankers up the river for the first time, which will lead to the industrialization of the lower Fraser, which is quite the coincidence, don’t you think? Where will all that uncontested traffic go once it hits the Oak Street Bridge? Good question.
Will it be tolled? Without doubt, since one study showed — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — an untolled bridge would attract too many commuters looking for a free ride.