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Minister hints at lower Port Mann toll

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom (centre) announces connection of the Port Mann bridge deck in June. - B.C. government photo
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom (centre) announces connection of the Port Mann bridge deck in June.
— image credit: B.C. government photo

As the Port Mann bridge replacement nears completion, Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom says he is "optimistic" that the toll can be lowered below $3 per crossing, at least for the first year.

Lekstrom said in an interview this week that his discussions with the corporation set up to build the 10-lane bridge indicate it may be possible to reduce the toll rate by extending the debt repayment period. When the project was announced, a $3 toll was calculated to pay the bridge off over 40 years.

Lekstrom said he has heard from many people who consider that toll too high, especially since the bridge will function with only eight lanes for the first year. The old bridge must be taken down before the last two lanes can be connected to Highway 1.

So would a toonie get you across during the first year? Lekstrom wouldn't give specific number until the entire tolling framework is released, which is expected to be in early September. There will be a second round of ministry advertising at that time, to explain the rates and payment options that will take effect when the bridge opens in December.

The eastern portion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road will open at the same time, giving drivers a faster route to the Pattullo Bridge as an alternative to the toll bridge. Lekstrom said he expects some people to try that, but soon recognize the time saving of the new Port Mann.

"To divert from the Port Mann to the Pattullo and then get back onto your way, I think people might do it once or twice to say look, I'm opposed to tolling," Lekstrom said. "But I couldn't imagine going through that frustration to save a couple of dollars."

Lekstrom said he's also confident that the promised rapid bus service will be in place from day one. If TransLink's $30 million funding shortfall isn't covered by savings from an ongoing audit of the regional transit group, he said he's committed to work with communities to find the money.

The prospect of a lower toll didn't impress Jordan Bateman, B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation.

"Lower Mainland drivers already pay more than a billion dollars a year in gas taxes," Bateman said. "We deserve to know that money is flowing into roads and bridges before we get dinged for tolls."

Lekstrom said he is also prepared for people to claim that a one-year discount on tolls is designed to ease the backlash against his unpopular government going into an election year.

Critics say the same thing about paving highways and building schools and hospitals, he said.

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