Governance & Politics
February 17, 2018

Pattullo: A question for Andrew Wilkinson

From the CBC:

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson questioned why the provincial government couldn’t get federal funding for the Pattullo Bridge replacement as well.
“Normally major infrastructure projects have a large component of federal financing. So we have to be concerned that B.C. rushed into this alone, and missed out on almost a half billion dollars of federal infrastructure funding,” he said.

 
Do tell us how much the federal government had committed to the Massey crossing when it was pulled out of the air by Premier Clark in 2013.  Or whether in subsequent years the Feds ever committed a loonie to its construction.
And while you’re at it, please explain:

  • What regional plan included the construction of Massey?
  • How many Metro mayors in the region supported it?
  • What provincial transportation plan prioritized it?
  • Why the previous transportation minister, Kevin Falcon, had rejected it as a pointless project?
  • Why the Liberals imposed a referendum requirement only for transit and not for Massey or any other major highway project?

Do tell.
 

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Get a little bit of rain and everyone gets back to business in Vancouver where the The CBC reports on the optimism arising from Greg Moore, the chair of Metro Vancouver and the other cities that comprise this region.  Everyone knows that housing affordability and transportation are the two most important factors in every conversation about this region. The relationship with the new NDP government and the Metro Cities has been encouraging so far, in a refreshing type of way.
After dealing with the  transportation referendum debacle  for Metro Vancouver (which was part of the former premier’s election promises in 2013) the Mayors want to advance the Ten Year Mayors’ Vision they had all agreed upon (except for the Mayor of Delta) .  That plan includes increasing rapid transit in the region and replacing the aging Patullo bridge. And that time is now.
With the new Provincial government actually talking to the Mayors and with the multi-billion dollar Massey Bridge (which was unsupported in the region except by the Mayor of  Delta) on hold, there are now active talks on working together between the region and the Province  to fund the agreed upon transportation initiatives. Instead of the Mayors finding out about the Province’s transportation priorities in the newspaper, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena is following up on her  pledge to work directly with the regional municipalities on advancing their agreed upon plan. It was Mayor Mussatto of the City of North Vancouver that said it best-“The (previous) provincial government didn’t really value our input. We didn’t feel like we were playing as equals at the table.”
That appears to have changed, with more open lines of communication and a renewed interest in moving forward with the important task of making this region accessible to everyone.  As the Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore observed about working with the new Provincial government  “We have disagreements on different things, but we work through them together. If you’re sitting at the table and working together, although you might have even major disagreements on one topic, you can still work together on other topics.”
It’s a simple and direct approach for these two levels of government to advance transportation and accessibility across the region.

 
 
 

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“The B.C. government is getting rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges starting Sept. 1, Premier John Horgan has announced.”
The Premier and assorted ministers articulated the reasons they’re getting rid of tolls – effectively on all existing and new road-and-bridge projects:

  • Reduce costs for drivers
  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce impediments to movement across the region

You can do one or two of those goals; you can’t, over time, do them all.  Less visible cost per trip, the more incentive to drive.  The more incentive to drive, the greater the likelihood of congestion.  And hence more impediment to movement – unless, of course, the belief is that we’ll build and widen more bridges and roads, which will all be ‘free’, thus continuing the fruitless cycle.
Three other impacts:

  • This is the end of the public-private partnership for funding infrastructure that requires a cash flow generated by the infrastructure funded.  (In other words, a perpetual money-machine, where debt to build infrastructure created more cash flow to generate more debt to build more infrastructure.)
  • Good luck to the ‘Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’ set up by the Mayors’ Council to explore the feasibility of road pricing.  The NDP decision today reinforces the notion that no senior government will accept a proposal that would require them to spend political capital to impose a visible charge on road users.
  • Though the government didn’t say so, I’m sure one of their goals would be to reduce sprawl in the Lower Mainland.  But as of today, that goal not only got so much harder, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in housing costs east of the Port Mann.
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In one of those puzzling moments, the Mayor of Delta has spoken out against the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation-which the Mayor sits on. The Mayor’s Council has released its #CureCongestionGuide as reported in Price Tags here, taking a look at all the policies put forward by the various Provincial parties and ascertaining which parties will further the development of public transportation in this region. The parties were asked about their understanding and commitment to the Mayor’s ten-year vision for Metro Vancouver which included Surrey light rail and replacing the Pattullo bridge. The Mayors’ Council had a “scorecard” and gave the NDP a 3 out of 5 points in terms of their  transit and transportation platform and responses.
The Mayor of Delta is the only Mayor in the region that wants the ten lane, multi-billion dollar (estimates now suggest $8 billion with carrying costs) unsustainable Massey Bridge being built by the Province on the sensitive Fraser River delta.  The proposed new bridge goes right into her jurisdiction, and  the Mayor was the only positive vote for this monolith, with the other Mayors asking the Province for a reconsideration.

As reported by Ian Jacques in the Delta Optimist  the Mayor stated “I really believe that we have to stay out of the politics of it and send our message strong and clear to whoever is the successor. I think this goes too far,” she said. “We need to encourage people to get out to vote, but vote as you wish. Know the facts. Here at the facts from the TransLink area, but in terms of comparing parties and encouraging people to vote in a certain direction, I have a problem with that.”
The Mayor of Delta also doesn’t like that the other mayors are not supporting  the Province’s Massey bridge, ostensibly designed for congestion, but really overbuilt to accommodate LNG carrying ships on the Fraser River. “It is a huge connector for the west side of the Lower Mainland and to have it totally ignored in this fashion is quite insulting frankly and quite unacceptable to me. We have been working on this current proposal for five long years and to not have any mention of a proposal of this nature in the study is baffling.”
Mike Buda, executive director of the TransLink Mayors’ Council Secretariat actually made a lot of sense when he clearly stated “Voters need to understand the kind of role the mayors’ council is looking for of the next provincial government to support that 10-year vision.”  And that is true. The current Provincial government wants to conduct another transit referendum after the last disastrous exercise. While we all know that the key to affordability and accessibility in the region is good public transportation, no one needs to be dragged back into that expensive referendum process again. We need to move forward with a Provincial government willing to work in partnership with Metro Vancouver to keep the region affordable and accessible. And that means working hard and co-operatively for good regional public transportation.
But back to the Mayor of Delta-“They are talking about the Pattullo Bridge and that hasn’t been on the books nearly as long, so to my way of thinking, the argument that the Massey project is a provincial project is very thin.”
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There has been some disappointing rhetoric about bridges, tolls, and congestion coming out of the stirred soup of next month’s Provincial election. While one candidate wants to restrict Port Mann bridge vehicle tolls to a 500 dollar annual upset amount-after that you are driving for “free”-another candidate says they will take away tolls entirely. Of course both of these approaches will induce further demand for vehicular travel, and further accentuate the 20th century approach to motordom where the car is king. Missing in this posturing is the reasoned and prudent approach to encouraging mass transit and car share, moving in the region as if livability and accessibility matter.
Metro Vancouver mayors have been discussing an approach  reported by Marcello Bernardo with CKNW “seeking approval to toll all bridges, so the money collected can be spent on transit improvements, but there’s been resistance from Victoria. The Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges have also been losing money because many drivers take alternate toll-free crossings.”
In Metro Vancouver “Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay says both pledges send the wrong message.You need to pay for this infrastructure somehow and you need to make it a little bit of a social penalty for encouraging people not to drive everywhere in their cars.” Clay is one of several Metro Vancouver mayors pushing for every bridge crossing in the region to be tolled.“Why isn’t it a dollar or two dollars on every bridge crossing?”

Mayor Clay also mentions a conundrum-while gas tax go to fund transit systems, electric cars are not taxed, and  in “some cases, we’re supplying the electricity for the cars, so we need to be very careful about doing things that encourage sprawl and encourage the use of a single-occupant vehicle.”

And the big question-why are the political parties not talking to the Metro Vancouver Mayors Council about how to best move (no pun intended) the region forward? Most mayors will agree further growth and development needs to concentrate on transit hubs and stations, focusing on public transit, not the private automobile.

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In that Provincial story that just doesn’t change and won’t go away the Delta Optimist’s Ian Jacques lets us know that Peter Fassbender, minister of community sport, culture development and minister responsible for TransLink has spoken. Despite the fact that the Federal Government has earmarked 2.2 billion dollars for transit and for the replacement of the Patullo Bridge, and nothing for the massive multi billion dollar proposed Massey Bridge, the Province is doggedly determined to go forward with their bridge reincarnation of the Massey Tunnel.
And there is a bit of a backhand at the Federal government and the Metro Mayors too-the Province is not going to match the 2.2 billion dollars in transit funding  provided by the Federal government, insisting that the Metro region pony up with 33 per cent of the funding.  But somehow the Province will have 3.5 billion dollars (at current estimates) for this bridge, despite Metro Mayors’ protest that it is overbuilt, in the wrong place, on a floodplain river delta, further compromising the Fraser River estuary and decimating the  most arable farmland in Canada. But never mind, back to the Provincial government’s point of view.

“Fassbender said according to the feds, the project is not eligible because it is already in effect underway and the transit funding announced is for rapid transit projects on existing or new infrastructure.”  The Mayor of Delta (and the only mayor of the Metro Mayors supportive of the Massey Bridge) provided a positive spin.  “We have a great deal of dollars coming from the feds relative to the Alex Fraser, the interchanges at Highway 17, at the weigh scales and the bottom of Nordel Way, so we have a lot of federal money coming to Delta and I’m ecstatic about that. What we are doing, and have continued to do, is talk with Ottawa and all work together to try and get additional funding for the bridge and if that happens, great, but it doesn’t change the situation.”

The situation is clear that the Province wants this bridge at all costs. Imagine what 3.5 billion dollars could do for improved public transportation in the region. And remember that the Province valued this overbuilt bridge instead of a more comprehensive metro Vancouver public transportation network.

 

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Yet another case (like New York and initially Stockholm) where senior governments oppose city’s instituting road tolls.

Especially (but not exclusively) conservative or Republican representatives of suburban districts.

Kathleen Wynne stopping John Tory’s plan for tolls on DVP, Gardiner | Toronto Star
Last month, Toronto council overwhelmingly backed Tory’s move to impose road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, two of the region’s busiest arteries, and use the proceeds for transit. …
But both Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath are opposed to Toronto being allowed to toll its highways, meaning Wynne might have paid for it politically next year.
Inside the Liberal caucus it has been as explosive an issue as the rising hydro bills that the government, which trails  …
While Tory has a lot of support for tolling at city hall, he faced criticism from suburban councillors, worried that their constituents would be collateral damage.
Mayors from outside Toronto have also derided city council’s proposal.
Durham Region chair Roger Anderson blasted the proposal as “a short-sighted solution to Toronto’s problem
They’re literally taxing the 905 to pay for Toronto’s problems,” Anderson noted last fall.
Oshawa Mayor John Henry has also voiced his opposition.
“There’s just no more money that people have left anymore.

So few cities in the world have instituted regional tolling or congestion charges, regardless of the fact that they are user pay, that they are a market-based approach to pricing scarcity, and that they work!  Surely these are features that are very attractive to free-enterprise and market-oriented politicians.  Lots of options for privatization there too.  And yet …
Even though there is no way the provincial government in B.C. will allow a conclusion about the best way to regionally toll anytime soon, the necessity of such a mechanism becomes inevitable with the tolling of a new Massey and replacement Pattullo bridges.  No way can only South of the Fraser be the only part of the region to be tolled.
But when the debate begins, there will be strident objections: what about those who don’t drive over bridges, or don’t drive at all?  Why should only car and truck drivers pay if the value of the road system benefits all?
So here’s another possibility: In the name of equality, the Liberals might actually remove all tolls and require the revenues be made up by a combination of local and provincial sources.  No referendum, of course.

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For years I have used a slide in my presentations that illustrate the various highway and bridge projects that are reshaping the Metro Vancouver area – a combination of MOTI Gateway and TransLink projects that together constitute a kind of asphalt noose.  Yes, that’s a perspective from Vancouver, as most of these projects either end at the boundaries of the city or provide freeway-scale routes around it. . I thought I had pretty much included everything built or committed.  But now, once again, another project has to be added: the Sunshine Coast Connector.  Some would say it’s speculative too – but I doubt it would even be announced for study unless there was some significant momentum behind it.  That’s how Motordom works: get a project on the map and create a certain inevitability.  . So here’s the latest version. . Click to enlarge. . Given the billions spent or planned for highway projects that will, in the absence of transit expansion, generate millions of more trips (and hence congestion), it’s only a matter of time before the noose will tighten – and there will be serious proposals for road expansions, expressways, tunnels and bridges though Vancouver to join them all up. Read more »

While traffic counts are below expectations on the Port Mann Bridge, is this a result of ‘peak car,’ changing demographics, job shifting, tolls – or is being absorbed on the Pattullo Bridge, the so-called ‘free alternative’ required by provincial policy.

That’s what this commenter thinks:

.

I think the Pattullo Bridge is taking up most of the slack from the traffic not going on the Port Mann.

And here’s something odd — I think it’s not passenger vehicles, but trucks.

About 75% of the time I cross the Pattullo, there’s a large truck ahead of me taking up both lanes to cross the bridge.

.

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I’ve even heard a rumour that the trucking companies have now told their drivers two things:


1. Take the Pattullo to save the bridge toll
2. Always take both lanes for “safety” reasons (And this is apparently illegal so it’s probably not in writing anywhere, but it would be fun to see that actually written out on some trucking company’s website)

.

I’ve been crossing the Pattullo for 30 years, and it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve seen this many trucks taking both lanes on the Pattullo. Since the bridge hasn’t actually shrunk, and I’m assuming that trucks haven’t gotten wider, it must be because of the toll bridge.

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When it comes to spending hard-earned taxpayers dollars (of which there is no other kind), why do we fail to appreciate the scale of expenditure when huge numbers are involved?  Why, in particular, do we criticize government waste when the numbers are small –  hello, Madame Speaker – but often suspend judgment when the numbers are big?

Take the Pattullo Bridge, for instance.

From the Royal City Record:

The City of New Westminster released the 33-page report, A Reasonable Approach: A Perspective on the Pattullo Bridge, on Wednesday.  … Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said a new tolled four-lane bridge would cost $850 million and a rehabilitated four-lane bridge would cost $250 million. He said that compares to a $1.5 billion estimated cost of a new six-lane bridge.

Surrey Coun. Tom Gill, chair of the city’s transportation and infrastructure committee, told the Surrey NOW that … it should have six lanes. He said rehabilitating of the Pattullo Bridge isn’t viable and is a “poor choice” in utilizing taxpayer’s money.  … “I would go as far as to say that we should be concentrating on a six-lane bridge.”

Note that the dispute is over the number of lanes, not the number of dollars.  It’s assumed that we will spend whatever we need to get what we want, not what we can afford.  The difference in cost between four and six lanes looks to be a relatively minor consideration.  The dispute between New West and Surrey is more about downstream impacts than on the efficient use of hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars.

But look at that difference: $650 million – a number that is essentially incomprehensible for the average person.

Here’s a way of thinking about it.  A million, most people would agree, is a lot.  A million seconds, for instance, works out to be just under the equivalent of 12 days.

And 650 million seconds?  Just over 20 years.

Given the huge difference and what we could buy for $650 million – hello, Surrey light rail – shouldn’t the debate be about whether we could get by with a smaller structure if it served our needs, especially if we used market mechanisms to drive out waste?  Indeed, why isn’t the first part of the discussion about what would provide the best return for the least cost, rather than the number of lanes?

Of course, the same thing is going on with the Massey Crossing.  Just triple the numbers.

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