Whether it was the nice weather, or maybe the long-weekend rush, the Golden Ears Bridge was busy late Friday morning.
Steady streams of cars were headed in both directions on the new bridge just a few hours after tolls had been removed at 12 a.m., Sept. 1.
It’s going to take a while though to get the precise numbers and to see exactly how many more vehicles are now using the $808-million bridge now that there are no tolls.
TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews said TransLink plans on doing just that.
“That’s something we’ll do both on the Pattulo and the Golden Ears bridges. So we’re monitoring that, but I won’t expect that for a while. It’s too early to say what’s changed.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said she’s seen on social media that people are saying they’re now going to cross the bridge, just because they can, toll-free.
”People are thrilled that they’re not getting tolled.”
And if the traffic volume on the bridge has jumped in the day since the tolls came off, “I think that’s a big signal that the tolls were way off.”
Use of the Golden Ears Bridge had been increasing since it opened in 2009, with about 13.5-million bridge crossings in 2016 – an increase of more than 55 per cent since 2010.
The removal of the tolls is estimated to save families who regularly have to cross the Fraser River an average $1,500 a year and commercial drivers averaging one crossing a day will save $4,500 a year or more.
NDP Premier John Horgan announced the end of tolls a week before in Port Coquitlam along the Fraser River.
“You shouldn’t have to pay tolls based on where you live,” he said. “This is about fairness.”
TransLink is in the process of covering up road signs about tolling, for future removal.
In a release Friday, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson re-stated the NDP’s promise to pay 40 per cent, instead of just a third, of the costs of the Mayor’s Council Ten-Year Vision for Metro Vancouver Transportation.
Better traffic flow will result from having the two new bridges being toll-free, said the government.
After the announcement, Surrey Board of Trade said it supports the decision to eliminate the tolls, but the group is calling for mobility pricing to be considered.
Michael Morden, president of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce, said it’s too soon to say what the impact of a toll-free bridge will be.
“You know that the bills on this bridge have to paid for somehow,” he said.
“How do we know what the impacts will be?”
If road pricing is implemented, that will mean tolls, he added.
Green party leader Andrew Weaver, which has agreement to keep the NDP in power in the legislature, said the decision to remove the tolls was “wreckless” because it will add to the provincial debt.