Editorial — The bridge tolls for us all

There is really no alternative to tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge, given the province's fiscal position.

On Wednesday, Transportation Minister Mary Polak will announce the plans for Port Mann Bridge tolls. Details will be available on our website.

In advance, it seems pretty likely that there will be an announcement of reduced tolls, at least while the entire Port Mann/Highway 1 improvement project is underway. It will be another year or more before the entire bridge and highway project is complete.

Given that a provincial election is coming up next May, and that tolls are a hot button issue for most residents who live south of the Fraser, the provincial government will obviously seek to sugar coat what is a very bitter pill to many — particularly those who use the bridge as part of a regular commute.

A reduced toll of about $2 per trip until the project is complete would not be overly popular, but would likely be reluctantly accepted by many residents. Whether it will be enough to convince them to give votes to BC Liberal candidates next May remains to be seen.

There is really no alternative to a toll bridge. Whether or not tolling is expanded in the Lower Mainland, which would at least provide more fairness, the Port Mann project is costing in the neighbourhood of $3 billion. Without tolling, the cost of that project will be picked up through general taxation.

The B.C. government is struggling to balance its budget, despite the carbon tax, property purchase tax, casino and lottery revenue, Medical Service plan premiums, BC Hydro and ICBC dividends and an HST that was voted out of existence but still remains. It clearly has had minimal success in reining in spending.

While there are areas where the government has wasted tax dollars, as all governments do, the fact is that B.C. is a fast-growing province, with a huge proportion of older residents who need expensive health care, and many new Canadians who also require specialized government services. The province, when it announced the Port Mann project back in 2006, was counting on continued economic growth to boost the economy and make the tolls less noticeable.

The tolls were not considered to be much of an issue back then, perhaps because many people were enjoying rising incomes and prosperity. Those days are over for now, but the tolls will soon be with us.

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