Transportation Minister Todd Stone won’t say whether the public will get a veto over possible tolls on a new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel.
The province hasn’t decided the scope or cost of the Highway 99 corridor project but Stone was asked by Black Press how he intends to get public approval for tolls if they’re to finance the promised new bridge.
“If we end up going down the road of tolls on the George Massey Bridge, we would want to make sure that was well informed by the public in terms of some public input,” Stone responded Wednesday.
He said the public engagement model used for the Port Mann/Highway 1 project is “one potential template.”
Stone was referring to a series of public open houses and an online survey held in 2006, after which the province announced it had 56 per cent support of 2,300 consultation participants for its plan to toll the new Port Mann Bridge.
Asked if the province would impose tolls anyway or abandon the idea if the public opposes paying to cross a new Massey Bridge, Stone was non-committal.
“It’s absolutely premature,” he said. “We don’t know if the desired funding model would be a tolled option.”
One method of public approval Stone rules out is including Massey Bridge tolls to the referendum TransLink mayors are expected to seek on a package of TransLink projects and new taxes.
“No, there’s no plan to link the two,” he said.
Tolls have been contentious in much of the region and especially Surrey and Langley since the new Port Mann Bridge was tolled, leaving the aging Pattullo Bridge, the Alex Fraser and the Massey Tunnel as the only free routes.
That’s led to increased talk among Metro politicians and others of applying tolls consistently across the region or shifting to some form of road pricing – scenarios that are currently blocked by the provincial tolling policy.
Stone confirmed the province will soon launch a review of the policy, which allows tolls only on new infrastructure and only when there’s a reasonable untolled alternate route.
“It’s a matter of fairness and equity for folks who live South of the Fraser,” he said, noting possible tolls on replaced Massey and Pattullo crossings would leave the Alex Fraser as Metro Vancouver’s only free bridge over the Fraser River and invalidate much of the provincial tolling policy.
He said finishing touches are being put on the planned review as part of a new 10-year provincial transportation plan.
Metro mayors still have to decide on a replacement of the Pattullo and whether it will be tolled, Stone added.
As for the Massey Bridge/Highway 99 project, Stone said the province must decide how much highway improvement is needed on each side of the Deas Island crossing.
He noted the replacement of the Port Mann Bridge was only $800 to $900 million of the much larger $3.3-billion project, which widened Highway 1 and replaced numerous interchanges.
According to the ministry, construction of the new Massey Bridge is expected to start in 2017.
Work is underway to develop a technical design and business case, which are to be released to the public later this year.