VIDEO: Maple Ridge’s Golden Ears Bridge no longer tolls for thee

VIDEO: Maple Ridge’s Golden Ears Bridge no longer tolls for thee

$3.20 charge to cross is gone, Sept. 1, says Premier Horgan

Taxpayers across B.C. are going to pick up the costs of taking the tolls off the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges, Premier John Horgan said during the feel-good announcement along the Fraser River, Friday.

The Port Mann Bridge, which opened in 2012, cost $3.3 billion to build, and was being paid for entirely through tolls on each vehicle that crossed. However, annual revenue deficits have now pushed that debt to $3.6 billion.

“We’re going to be transferring the debt from the Port Mann Bridge on to the taxpayer-supported debt of the province of B.C.,” Horgan said.

That’s how other infrastructure projects have been paid for around B.C., apart from the Coquihalla Highway, he added.

Removing the tolls on both bridges will mean that taxpayers will have to pay $132 million this year to make up the shortage in revenue. That number includes $94 million from Port Mann tolls and $38 million from Golden Ears. Another $12 million is needed to actually stop the tolling process.

“We can manage that in within our fiscal framework. It will not have an impact … on our borrowing costs,” Horgan said.

However, Langley Liberal MLA Rich Coleman said if the government’s decision takes the debt-to-GDP above 17 per cent, it could affect B.C.’s credit rating, meaning the government will be charged higher interest rates when borrowing money for new schools, bridges or hospitals.

“So it’s something to really watch for. Both … balancing the budget and a triple-A credit rating because your debt-to-GDP are really critical to the long-term future of the province,” Coleman said.

Horgan said the government then will talk to TransLink about making up the revenue in future years. Meanwhile the Port Mann Bridge will cost the government about another $135 million a year because of the lost revenue.

Horgan said the government is awaiting the Mayor’s Council’s ideas on paying for transportation infrastructure. A commission is now considering road pricing for the region.

Motorists who have outstanding bridge toll bills as of Aug. 31, won’t be getting a free ride. They’ll still have to pay the bills because part of the Transportation Investment Corp. will remain to collect the bills. And if people still don’t pay, they’ll have to do so when they renew their drivers licences, Horgan said.

“We want to start with a clean slate … and work with the Mayor’s Council, and others right across B.C., to make sure we’re delivering transportation infrastructure they need.”

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Travena said there will be some job losses at the Transportation Investment Corp. which manages the Port Mann Bridge project. About 90 people work in the tolling division for the Port Mann while another 50 people do the same for the Golden Ears Bridge.

The government is helping employees transition but there will be job losses, she added.

The announcement brought out some bystanders for the occasion.

Port Coquitlam resident Jean Norman is looking forward to not having to pay the tolls when she visits her two granddaughters in Surrey. “It probably costs me about $50 a month.”

The tolls would have cost her a lot when she was younger and driving her two sons here and there for sports activities. “It just starts to add up after awhile.”

Sheila Raikadroka was in the same predicatment. She lives in Surrey but regularly visits her mom in Pitt Meadows. “This a big thing personally for us.”

The announcement drew several mayors from the region but Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker and Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read were no-shows.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said removing the tolls should even out traffic around the region but it raises the question of how to pay for the Pattulo Bridge, which was also supposed to be tolled.

“I think the people of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be ecstatic. People have been calling me every day and asking when are the tolls coming off and now we can say Sept. 1,” Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith.

“It’s something we committed to making happen in our community,” added Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare.

The government has fulfilled other campaign promises since being elected last spring, such as raising social assistance rates by $100, banning the grizzly bear hunt, and creating the Fair Wage Commission she added.