One of the most-asked questions about the new Port Mann Bridge and highway improvement program relates to the tolls.
The project, which includes major improvements to Highway 1 between First Avenue in Vancouver and 216 Street in Langley, is costing about $3.4 billion.
While the province took over the project after failing to find a private sector operator, it still insists that it must be paid for through tolls.
Tolls will be about $3 per trip for cars, one-way, with commercial vehicles paying as much as $9 per one-way trip.
There will be a 25 per cent discount for registered carpoolers during peak hours, and a 50 per cent discount will be available for large commercial vehicles in the overnight hours.
Langley residents are already familiar with bridge tolls, having to pay to cross the Golden Ears Bridge to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
The bridge opened in June, 2009 and is owned by TransLink.
The company that built the bridge is being paid back over a 35-year period through tolls. Vehicle licence numbers are recorded at the north end of the bridge, and tolls are either added to an existing account or a bill is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Some who cross use transponders and pay the lowest rate.
Others are registered with the company that collects the tolls, while others rely on getting a bill.
Those who do not pay tolls on the Golden Ears have a day of reckoning each year — as long as they are B.C. residents. They can’t renew their vehicle insurance until the bill is paid. Drivers from outside B.C. are not required to pay.
Things will be slightly different for the Port Mann. Project spokesperson Max Logan says about five per cent of the trips over the bridge will be by out-of-province drivers, and the government is anxious to collect tolls from them.
There will be service centres set up alongside the highway on both sides of the bridge, where drivers can pull off and pay the tolls, or put a certain amount into an account to allow them to make several trips across the bridge. On the east side of the bridge, the service centre will be located near 160 Street, while on the west side of the bridge, it will be located near the Cape Horn interchange.
There will also be a number of kiosks set up throughout the Metro Vancouver area to allow visitors to put some money down for the bridge crossings.
They will be located at rest stops, ferry terminals and other places where drivers congregate.
People will also be able to go online to set up an account and put some money into it.
“We want to offer as many convenient ways to pay as possible,” Logan said.
He said experience in other jurisdictions, about two-thirds to three-quarters of out-of-province drivers will pay their tolls. The province will have no hold on out-of-province drivers, but B.C. residents will need to pay any outstanding bills before renewing insurance through ICBC.
Regular Port Mann users will get a windshield sticker that serves the same purpose as the transponder on the Golden Ears. While the toll collection system on the two bridges will stay separate at first, it may be combined after the Port Mann system is up and running and fully functional,Logan said.
For more about the project, see http://www.pmh1project.com.