A provincial government traffic assessment predicts a congestion nightmare on the Alex Fraser Bridge if a George Massey Tunnel bridge replacement is tolled and pushes drivers to free alternatives.

While the documents predict traffic will improve on the new tolled crossing, the spillover from drivers avoiding the toll will result in tens of thousands more vehicles using the Alex Fraser Bridge in the near future.

“If it looks bad today it will be way worse in the future,” said Langley City Coun. Nathan Pachal. “That means more congestion, more delays to get on the bridge, and more variability on commute times.”

The assessment measures the current traffic on the Alex Fraser Bridge at 107,000 vehicles a day. If no new bridge is built, it’s estimated the growth in the region will push the traffic to 120,000 vehicles a day in 2045.

But with a new, $3.5-billion Massey Bridge in place, the load on the Alex Fraser Bridge would increase to 140,000 cars a day – a 30 per cent increase compared to today.

This is “primarily because of off-peak diversion from the tolled facility to the untolled facility,” the report says.

The B.C. Trucking Association says the Alex Fraser Bridge is already at 90 per cent, and increasing traffic that much more would put it way over capacity.

“If it rises by 30 per cent we’ll be over capacity. Traffic will be extremely slow and if anything happens on the bridge we’re coming to a standstill,” said the association’s Louise Yako.

This is a similar dynamic to what surprised highway planners on the Port Mann Bridge: rather than paying the $3.15 toll to cross the Port Mann Bridge, many drivers opted for the free alternative of the Pattullo Bridge.

That’s one factor that has caused the bridge to report stunning losses: $82.5 million in the fiscal year of 2015-16, according to the Transportation Investment Corporation, which is a crown corporation that operates the span.

Right now, it’s provincial government policy to always offer drivers a free alternative. It’s not yet clear what the tolls would be on the George Massey crossing.

The Ministry of Transportation told CTV News that despite the gloomy traffic predictions, the provincial government plans to move ahead anyway.

“The B.C. government is moving ahead with the plan to replace the new bridge a well as associated Highway 99 improvements,” a spokesperson wrote. She added the government is working on a new interchange at Highway 91 and 72 Avenue in Delta, which could cut congestion.

The traffic assessment also pointed out that the Oak Street Bridge traffic has reduced to 2005 levels after commuters were given the option of the parallel Canada Line.

“Since commuters have adjusted to the introduction of the Canada Line, vehicle volumes have adjusted to the introduction of the Canada Line, vehicle volumes on the Oak Street Bridge have been declining year over year, particularly on weekdays,” the report says.

Pachal called a decision to spend $3.5-billion on a bridge that may not recoup its construction cost through tolls “insane.”

He said a plan to charge drivers for the roads they use is the only way to reduce congestion across the board.

“The region’s been calling for a comprehensive road pricing strategy,” he said. “You can’t build your way out of congestion – that’s been shown in city after city in the world.”

And increasing public transit as proposed by Metro Vancouver’s mayors to get people out of their cars should be the first option, he said.

“For $3.5 billion, we get one bridge, or half of the mayors’ transit plan, and I know what I would go for if I had the choice,” he said.