The Port Mann Bridge still won’t have all 10 lanes open when the toll that most drivers pay doubles to $3 per crossing in a few weeks.
Eighty per cent of motorists who use the bridge signed up early enough after it opened in December of 2012 that they’ve been paying $1.50 per crossing thanks to a year-long 50 per cent discount.
That runs out next month but the bridge will still have only eight lanes open to traffic until next summer.
Transportation Investment Corp. spokesman Max Logan said that’s how long it’s expected to take to dismantle the old Port Mann Bridge and complete work to connect the final two outer lanes to the bridge approaches.
Charging full tolls on schedule is justified, he said, because all the extra lanes of the Highway 1 improvement project other than the bridge itself will be open in December through Coquitlam and Burnaby.
Since that’s where the bottleneck is, Logan said, drivers should notice a huge difference in congestion relief in return for the higher price of using the bridge.
“Drivers sail over the bridge right now,” Logan said. “Where they start to slow down is where they enter Coquitlam. So it’s really about being able to provide the full travel time savings.”
Logan wasn’t able to give an exact date for when the discount will expire and the $3 tolls kick in.
He said that will only happen when additional lanes through to the Cassiar Tunnel fully open, adding that’s still expected to be sometime in early December.
The agreement covering the bridge operations allows tolls to be raised for inflation each year, but Logan said the first such increase that won’t happen before December of 2014.
When all the bridge lanes are open next year they will also include dedicated local connection lanes that allow drivers to go between Coquitlam and Surrey without merging with general Highway 1 traffic.
“It will cut down on weaving and lane changing on the bridge,” Logan added.
The demolition of the old bridge is proceeding as planned, and crews will begin to dismantle the large iconic orange arch over the next couple of months.
Logan said engineers have also redesigned the system of brushes and scrapers that are winched up and down the cables in the event of snow and ice build-up to prevent any repeat of last winter’s notorious incident of ice bombs falling onto cars.
The sweeper system isn’t yet reinstalled, but Logan said it will be in place within a couple of weeks before any risk of snow.
ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman said 350 claims were received for vehicle damage from the Dec. 19 falling ice episode and $400,000 was paid out.
The cable-clearing system has been paid for by the bridge’s builder, at no cost to taxpayers.