Bridge tolls, prior to elimination, were expected to fund project
By Jake Wray, News Editor
The future of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project is uncertain after the BC government eliminated bridge tolls, which were expected to fund most of the project, and neglected to allocate alternative funds in a recent provincial budget update.
The 80-year-old bridge is in notoriously poor condition. A report issued to the TransLink board of directors by Sany Zein, TransLink’s acting vice president of infrastructure management, on September 8, 2016 said the bridge “may be vulnerable” during an earthquake or extremely high wind.
Replacing the bridge is a key priority in TransLink’s 10-Year Vision. Planning on the replacement project officially began in 2016 and construction was expected to begin early in 2019.
The new bridge was supposed to be financed primarily with a loan, and tolls collected from the new bridge would pay off that debt, but the new provincial government’s stance on bridge tolls has eliminated that funding option, according to Jonathan Coté, chair of the TransLink Mayors’ Council funding strategy committee.
Coté, mayor of New Westminster, said he is “cautiously optimistic” the NDP government will provide a funding alternative for the Pattullo Bridge replacement project, adding that the Province recently promised to compensate TransLink for lost toll revenue from the Golden Ears Bridge.
The Pattullo Bridge will only last for six or seven more years, but building a new bridge will take at least five years, so it’s important to lock in a replacement strategy soon, according to Coté.
The TransLink Mayors’ Council discussed planning the replacement project without toll revenues at a meeting on July 27, according to minutes from the meeting, but Coté said they haven’t begun contingency planning for the possibility that the replacement project could fall through entirely.
“There hasn’t been detailed planning at this stage about if the bridge has to be decommissioned for a few years, or even permanently,” he said. “I would say we’ll know a year from now whether we’ll need to start having those conversations or not.”
The government is “committed” to the replacement project, but needs more time to review a final business case for the project, according to an e-mail statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
TransLink is “working with the provincial government to discuss funding options” for the project, according to a bulletin on the TransLink website.