Port Mann trips down in 2014, debt reaches $3.6-billion
It was built to alleviate headache-inducing bottlenecks, but the new Port Mann Bridge isn’t just seeing fewer traffic jams – it’s also seeing fewer drivers.
The number of weekday trips across the bridge dropped by thousands in every month but December when compared to 2013, according to the Transportation Investment Corporation, the crown agency that operates the bridge.
The new span opened on Dec. 1, 2012, but regular tolling didn’t go into effect until the beginning of 2014.
Traffic has dropped even lower than it was on the old bridge. In 2006, the average number of users was about 127,000 a day and last year, the average was about 20 per cent lower, meaning the new bridge is losing about $80-million per year.
In a financial outlook, TI Corp said total debt for the bridge has reached $3.6-billion, while its deficit has climbed past $303-million – but the agency isn't worried.
"For the first couple of years, we've seen traffic lower than we had anticipated," said Max Logan, vice-president of tolling for TI Corp. "For us as a public agency, we're not concerned about profitability. In fact, we're a non-profit."
Logan said the agency's primary responsibility is to make sure debt for the bridge is paid off by 2050, a goal he said it is on track to meet.
But some think TI Corp should be looking at alternative solution to ensure the bridge is viable.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote said at $3 per crossing for small vehicles, the toll seems to be driving people away from using the bridge. He said more people are skirting the Port Mann by using the aging and untolled Pattullo Bridge.
“[It] definitely shows that tolls do have an impact of either changing people’s travel behavior by mode-share, but also by shifting them to free alternatives,” he said. “Having people drive longer distances just to avoid the toll actually isn’t benefitting our transportation system as a whole.”
One solution to deter people from fee-dodging could be to introduce a toll for the Pattullo and to drop the price on the Port Mann, Cote said.
“I’d rather see a lower toll both on the Pattullo Bridge and the Port Mann Bridge, recognizing that we do need funding for both of those bridge projects…but also realizing that having one of those bridges as a free alternative is causing a negative impact on our transportation system,” he said.
Despite the lower number of trips, TI Corp maintained a positive outlook in its report, saying early indications are that traffic numbers in January 2015 are so far higher than the last two years.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Mi-Jung Lee