Editorial — New Port Mann Bridge brings a difficult choice

A shortened commute versus tolls — that will be the dilemma facing drivers.

The widened Port Mann Bridge and freeway opened for business Saturday.

The real test came Monday, when commuters came back after the weekend lull. All traffic reports stated that there was virtually no line-up to get onto the bridge, something that hasn’t been seen regularly during rush hour since the 1960s.

The new bridge is eight lanes wide, up substantially from the five that the old bridge offered. In each direction, there are three lanes for regular traffic, and one for buses and car pools. For the first time ever, commuters from this side of the river who carpool are being rewarded.

The freeway widening project is not yet complete north of the river, and there will be line-ups for commuters in many spots from Coquitlam through to Vancouver. That’s the main reason the bridge toll is being set at $1.50 for cars for the first year, for those who register by Feb. 28, 2013.

The new 555 express bus service from the Carvolth Park and Ride to Braid SkyTrain station has also started operating, and it will be interesting to see how many people will use it. The frequency of buses is not as initially promised, nor does it stop in Surrey, but it will be frequent during rush hours. Pay parking will go into effect at the lot within a few months.

The big test of the Port Mann project will come Saturday, when the tolling begins. As there are 20 free trips for those who registered with TrEO by Nov. 30, traffic volumes likely won’t change too much in December. However, it is almost certain that there will be more drivers heading to the Pattullo Bridge when tolling begins, especially as the South Fraser Perimeter Road (now known as Highway 17) is open from 176 Street to an area close to the Pattullo.

Langley residents who regularly use Highway 1 will have to make a choice — avoid the tolls and get stuck in the lineup for the Pattullo, or use the Port Mann, pay the toll and get to their destinations more quickly. The same option will face drivers from north of the Fraser who commute here for work.

Neither option is very desirable, but there aren’t many others. The bus service will only serve a few people at this point in time, and is of little use to those who commute here, given the minimal number of available connections.

The next few months will be a key test period for bridge users.

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