The provincial government is spending $400,000 on an advertising campaign to promote the new Port Mann Bridge.
The spending comes despite repeated assurances from the province that the $3.3-billion Port Mann/Highway 1 project will be fully paid for through tolls and that there is no risk large numbers of motorists will divert to untolled crossings to avoid having to pay.
“I think it is money very well spent,” Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said Monday of the ad blitz, which emphasizes the time savings for users.
“We think it’s very important that the public is aware of the opening of the Port Mann Bridge, what to expect when it opens, when it will open – that kind of thing.”
Ministry planners have projected any diversion of toll-averse drivers to free crossings will be largely offset by an influx of motorists who currently avoid the Port Mann because of congestion and will willingly pay the minimum $3 tolls for a faster trip over the new 10-lane span.
Lekstrom said the province is in the final stages of putting the tolling infrastructure in place, adding more information will be coming on that in the next couple of months, in advance of the bridge opening with an initial eight lanes this December.
The ministry has yet to reveal exactly what signs will be used and where they will be placed alerting drivers to the recommended untolled route via the Pattullo Bridge and the northeast stretch of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Westbound drivers will have to exit Highway 1 at 176 in order to take the SFPR to the Pattullo.
TransLink’s Golden Ears Bridge hasn’t generated as much paying traffic as initially expected, but officials expect that to improve once the Port Mann no longer offers a free alternative.
NDP transportation critic Harry Bains called the advertising campaign a waste of money.
“The bridge is being built, it’s been advertised all along,” he said. “How many photo ops have they had?”
Bains said the ministry should instead be working to deliver the promised express bus service over the Port Mann Bridge – currently on hold due to the denial of higher taxes and fares for TransLink.
He said he has serious doubts about the ministry’s prediction of what will happen when the new bridge opens and tolls are charged for the first time on Highway 1 in the Lower Mainland.
“It’s going to be chaos in Whalley, the Guildford area and North Delta area,” Bains said, predicting drivers clog 104 and 108 avenues in Surrey to get to the Pattullo or Alex Fraser bridges. “The Pattullo is going to be jam packed. It’s going to be even more dangerous.”