Bridge tolls gone but Maple Ridge still costly, says mayor

Bridge tolls gone but Maple Ridge still costly, says mayor

Pitt Meadows mayor now talking SkyTrain

Motorists will no longer be nickel and dimed for crossing the Fraser River when the tolls come off the Golden Ears Bridge, Sept. 1.

But that’s only one part of the affordability puzzle.

House prices keep climbing to the point that many can’t afford a place, even in Maple Ridge, while there’s still no consensus on what will replace the bridge tolls.

Meanwhile, the city has to focus on bringing in good-paying, local jobs, said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read.

“I’m a huge supporter of that decision,” Read said of NDP Premier John Horgan’s announcement on Friday that tolls will be off the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges.

“We need a more fair and equitable way to pay for those bridges,” Read said.

A TransLink commission is currently studying what type of road pricing or fares could replace the millions of dollars that so far have been raised by tolls.

And Read said earlier she wants to ensure that whatever system is adopted doesn’t gouge Maple Ridge residents because they live farther from Vancouver.

“I just think the payment for infrastructure needs to be equitable across the region,” she added.

“When people are seeking affordability by moving out here and we’re charging them hundreds of dollars a month to cross the bridge, it doesn’t really work from an affordability stand point.”

Land-use planning is still not harmonized with transportation planning, she said.

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said the NDP’s idea to remove the tolls was made without consulting TransLink or the Mayor’s Council.

“It’s not intelligent planning. It’s politically satisfying … but as a long-term planning exercise, it failed completely because there was no discussion with the Mayors Council or TransLink.”

Instead, Becker said, the NDP should have worked with TransLink to tweak the tolls, perhaps by lowering them to the point where most people accepted them, while still keeping at least some of the millions of dollars raised.

Becker added that the government should have taken the money it’s using to replace toll revenue ($132 million for this year alone, for both bridges) and give that to TransLink for its Phase 2 transportation upgrades.

On the other hand, removing the tolls could help traffic through Pitt Meadows. More vehicles will remain on Hwy. 1 instead of diverting to the Lougheed Highway, while more vehicles should also go over the Golden Ears Bridge instead of along the Mary Hill Bypass, Becker said.

But the Harris Road and Lougheed Highway intersection will remain a problem, he added.

Pitt Meadows Coun. Bruce Bell disagreed with Becker. saying the bridge tolls were almost punitive.

A toll-free Port Mann will reduce traffic on the aging Pattulo Bridge, he said.

“Where the money is going to come from is another thing.”

Becker said transportation, this year, will remain a major issue for Pitt Meadows, particularly as the city does its long-term planning out to 2045.

Transportation congestion is choking the movement of goods and services, he said.

“If we are looking out that far ahead, I think conversations around the possibilities of SkyTrain extension or expanded rail, those are very useful conversations to have.”

For example, a corridor for a SkyTrain line along Lougheed Highway should be protected while it’s still possible to do so.

“We do have room right now. We do have the rights of way. So it’s incumbent upon politicians of the day to set that aside … so we’re not wringing our hands saying now we have to tear down a hotel or we have to expropriate a chunk of a mall because we weren’t thinking far enough ahead for transportation infrastructure. It’s nonsense.”

Read recently called for long-term plans to include SkyTrain to Maple Ridge.

Becker has said it would be cheaper to expand West Coast Express, but questions about the long-term future of that service have been raised as freight traffic grows along the CP Rail track into Vancouver.

However, a reader recently pointed out that West Coast Express is 20 minutes quicker than SkyTrain, from Coquitlam Central to Waterfront Station.

Friday’s announcement saw the premier, ministers, MLAs and mayors crowd on to a narrow pier in Port Coquitlam for the occasion. The invitation had only been given the day before.

But neither Read nor Becker nor any members of either council were there.

“I was supposed to go and it was also supposed to be a day off, so I wasn’t able to get there – but I had hoped to be able to get there,” Read said.

It was a last-minute invite and Read had been busy with several issues over the summer.

Becker spent Friday at TransLink working on the city’s long-term transportation plan and was briefed before about the announcement.

“I had other meetings. I’m not a fan of rather pointless photo-ops. My time was better spent somewhere else on the transportation portfolio.”

As far as any missed lobbying efforts, Becker doesn’t think much was lost. “What, milling around at a photo op? I don’t think so.”

 

Bridge tolls gone but Maple Ridge still costly, says mayor