We all know what’s been happening with the Golden Ears Bridge. Tolls revenues from 2011 paid for just half of the $71 million in operating and debt servicing expenses. These revenues are 25% below 2005 projections. Traffic is 6% below current forecasts, even with toll reductions on evenings and weekends.
The assumption has always been that the Port Mann would be different because, unlike the Golden Ears, people are already using the route and bridge. But new data is questioning many of the projections made for this $3.3 billion megaproject.
First up, recent traffic data is showing a clear peak of use with the current Port Mann back in 2005, with 122,000 daily crossings. It has since declined to around 113,000 daily crossings in 2010.
Now, new modelling by Steer Davies Gleave, has reduced their 2006 traffic forecast of 150,000 crossings per day to 120,000 per day.
The project itself was supposed to be entirely self-financed through tolls. Last year the Auditor-General questioned the financial plans of the province’s new Transportation Investment Corporation, which oversees the tolling and financing of the project. He revealed that the projections show the project won’t begin breaking even until 2017-2018.
Next year, toll revenue is forecast at $50 million, paying just half of the near $100 million servicing costs. In 2014, the tolls will double, theoretically providing $100 million in revenue. Projections show an anticipated $184 million in revenue, meaning roughly $84 million in new revenue. That’s $230,000 more every day, or about 76,000 new crossings. In 2015, revenue increases to $208 million, adding $24 million to the pot. That’s $65,000 more per day, or 21,000 more crossings at a $3 toll.
Therefore, over the next three years, the Port Mann needs almost 100,000 more daily crossings, practically a doubling of existing traffic. The modelling assumes most of this growth will be a result of new commuters coming from Surrey and Langley. To hit this amount of traffic, it would need to attract all vehicles that currently cross both the Pattullo and Golden Ears Bridges. Even at these numbers, revenues will still be $28 million short of covering expenses and debt servicing.
While we obviously cannot predict what will happen, there are some serious questions that need to be asked. Will the Port Mann suffer from the same tolling aversion that has plagued the Golden Ears Bridge? Or has car usage in the West peaked and entered a new era of urban, car-free lifestyles driven by shifting demographics and economic realities? If either possibility turns out to be true, how sound are the assumptions that traffic on the new Port Mann will double and commuters will happily pay $3 to do so?
And even projections are met, making the bridge’s financing viable, what does this mean for the traffic on our municipal roads and the car-dominated landscape it will create for the South Fraser region? Do we really want a world with twice as many cars in our communities? If that many people are driving, can we support a robust transit system? If Light Rail ever comes to Surrey, what happens to traffic demand and toll revenues on the Port Mann?
We will be keeping a close eye as this all unfolds. Stay tuned.