The province has said it will replacce the four-lane Massey Tunnel with a new Highway 99 bridge over the Fraser River.

Tolls to rule Massey congestion, new bridge or not

TransLink study predicts future Highway 99 traffic levels, based on Massey Tunnel replacement options, tolling

Replacing the Massey Tunnel with a big new bridge will bring worse Highway 99 rush hour congestion than motorists now experience unless the new crossing is tolled, according to a new study for TransLink.

The projections also suggest the decision on whether or not to toll the Deas crossing will have much more influence on travel times than whether a new bridge is built at all.

Coriolis Research estimated Highway 99 travel times in the morning rush from 8th Avenue in Surrey (near the Peace Arch border crossing) to the Oak Street Bridge in Vancouver would climb from 35 minutes now to 38 minutes by 2045 if a new eight-lane Massey bridge is not tolled, compared to an improved travel time of 31 minutes if the bridge is tolled.

That’s based on an estimate 25 per cent more vehicles will use the new bridge if drivers don’t have to pay to cross and that it will also bring a significant surge in land development, putting more cars and trucks on the road than would otherwise be the case.

The study also looked at the effect of adding tolls to the Massey Tunnel without building a new bridge and came up with much the same results – an estimated 32-minute travel time if the existing four-lane tunnel is tolled and 38 minutes by 2045 if it remains free.

Coriolis assumed an eight-lane bridge would be built with HOV lanes in each direction.

It also assumed any tolls would be in line with the rates at the tolled Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges, that the Pattullo Bridge is refurbished for three-lane use and there are no significant investments in transit.

SFU City Program director Gordon Price said the finding of a mere three-minute shift in travel time appears to further undercut the already shaky case for building a new bridge that could cost up to $3 billion.

“That’s a billion dollars a minute for no noticeable improvement in congestion,” Price said. “No tangible change. It’s breathtaking.”

He said it puts more pressure on the provincial transportation ministry to justify the Massey Tunnel replacement.

A project definition report is expected this spring from the province, which last year announced plans to build the new bridge but has not yet indicated how big it would be or whether it would toll the replaced crossing.

Many Metro Vancouver mayors want universal low bridge tolls on all major crossings, but others favour a road pricing scheme that also captures lengthy trips in the region that are made without crossing any bridge.

Price said the money to build the bridge – even if it’s tolled – will ultimately come from local residents and reduce their ability to afford more effective investments in public transit.

“Even if it’s a tolled bridge, that’s still money out of taxpayers’ pockets,” Price said. “It’s a sinkhole of huge resources that are desperately needed elsewhere for almost no gain.”

The Coriolis study forecasts a new bridge would shift residential housing growth from Richmond towards South Delta and South Surrey, and industrial development to the area from Burnaby and North Surrey.

The report also projects future transit use on the corridor will be better if the new bridge is tolled than if it’s free.

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