Golden Ears Bridge still ‘underperforming’

Revenue and use projections made in boom years of 2000s

Golden Ears Bridge numbers still aren't meeting projections.

Golden Ears Bridge numbers still aren't meeting projections.

Motorists keep paying to cross the Golden Ears Bridge, but it’s still not enough to hit TransLink’s targets.

TransLink officials told Metro Vancouver mayors last week that the annual subsidy needed for contractor payments and maintenance costs is expected to grow from $30 million – to around $40 million in each of the next two years.

The number reflects a new reality that TransLink is facing after the boom times of the early 2000s ended and the economic recession of 2008 hit the world economy.

“The 2004 forecasts have not materialized, and are no longer valid. New forecasts, based on actual traffic volumes and today’s economic growth projections, are now being used,” said TransLink’s director of roads, Sany Zein.

Recent numbers show the bridge is still under achieving expectations.

When the bridge opened in July 2009, TransLink expected then an average of 30,000 vehicles to use the bridge daily.

But in 2012, the average number of daily crossings was still only 29,500.

When it comes to money expected to be brought in from the tolls, in 2011, revenues were about $4 million less than the projections of $38 million.

It took until a year later before the $38 million figure was hit, with actual figures for 2012 showing revenue at $38.9 million, with the same revenue expected this year.

“You can see most days, there’s hardly any traffic on the darn thing,” says Canadian Tire store owner Bryan Hutton, whose store is located at the north end of Golden Ears Way, which leads to the bridge.

Hutton says he’s seen “no discernible uplift” from having the new connection to Surrey and Langley, adding that it may even account for a slight decrease in store’s client base as people drive south.

Despite the low numbers, the toll bridge is a key to the 100-acre Golden Ears Business Centre on Airport Way in Pitt Meadows.

“If that bridge wasn’t there, that park wouldn’t be anywhere near the success it is right now,” said leasing agent Chris Morrison.

Development of the centre started five years ago and has now reached critical mass.

“It’s been a real success,” Morrison added.

The last building put up is now 80 per cent leased. The centre’s location, access rates, and lack of space elsewhere, as well as a streamlined building permit process provided by the City of Pitt Meadows, is speeding the development of the centre, he said. Phase 1 of the centre, 650,000 sq. ft., should be all leased out by the end of the year.

Bridge tolls are a factor for businesses setting up in the centre, but Morrison points out there could be tolls everywhere eventually, and at some point, people will give up trying to avoid them. The new Port Mann Bridge is only the second tolled bridge in the Lower Mainland.

Large trucks, with transponders, currently pay a toll of $6 for each crossing, while autos with transponders pay $3 a crossing. The pay-as-you-go rate for casual auto users is now $4.25 each way.

Having a connection to customers on south side of the Fraser River has been a big plus for West Coast Auto Group whose Nissan, Kia, Toyota, Ford and Mazda stores are all at Golden Ears’s northern approach.

“Most definitely it has,” said Scott Jones, general manager of West Coast Toyota and West Coast Mazda.

“More specifically, Walnut Grove,” in north Langley.

Before the Golden Ears Bridge opened, car shoppers would have to drive over the Port Mann or Mission bridges to get to Maple Ridge dealerships. Now, it’s a 10-minute drive, putting Maple Ridge dealers closer than those on the Langley bypass for Walnut Grove residents.

“It’s certainly opened up the market, there’s no question about that.”

Having the connection means the dealerships can also hire from Langley and Surrey as well, with employees only having a 15- or 20-minute commute, if they don’t mind paying the toll. But it can get pricey to cross the Golden Ears, especially if families are making regular trips south for minor sports, said Jones, who said lower tolls could increase user-ship.

According to TransLink, when Golden Ears was being planned in 2004, the revenue projection for 2012 was between $40 million to $70 million, with the average daily crossings projected at between 33,000 and 61,000. (Compared to actual figures of $38.9 million with an average daily crossing of 29,500.)

Zein said the projections were made before the 2008 recession when the economy was growing and gas prices were lower.

As well, while traffic is growing about three per cent this year, there’s no expectation in TransLink’s 10-year plan for revenue “to grow sufficiently,” to cover the annual costs.

There was never a guarantee that the annual toll revenues would cover the annual cost of the bridge, he added.

 

– with files from Black Press

 

 

 

 

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