The removal of bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland opens questions about bridges yet to be crossed.
Last week, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced that as of Sept. 1, tolls would be eliminated on both the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges.
Horgan said removal of tolls is about fairness – of British Columbians sharing the infrastructure burden equally.
Some responded with cheers, grateful for the elimination of the $6.30 daily cost of driving to and from work. Others critical of the move called it good politics and bad policy.
BC Green party leader Andrew Weaver, who would have received advanced notice of the announcement as part of an agreement with the BC NDP, called the elimination of tolls “reckless,” and said it would add “billions” in taxpayer-supported debt. The BC Liberals said much the same, warning the move could have a negative impact on the province’s credit rating.
The announcement has opened greater conversations such as how we control traffic congestion (the removal of tolls may redistribute traffic, but not reduce it) and pay for infrastructure.
Eliminating tolls obviously means an immediate loss in revenue to pay down debt on the two bridges. On top of that, if the province has to absorb the $4.2 billion servicing debt run up by the TI Corporation, the Crown corporation that oversees the tolling systems on both bridges, the province’s credit rating, which shapes our borrowing ability, becomes a concern. So then does our ability to fund proposed highway improvements such as the Bruhn Bridge replacement, and the ongoing four laning of Highway 1.
Even with shared federal funding, the province will need millions of dollars to see these projects to fruition.
We may be waiting longer and/or paying more before our local highway infrastructure wants and needs are addressed.