Murky traffic, revenue projections behind Port Mann Bridge?

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.

About Paul Hillsdon

Paul Hillsdon is the Founder and Editor of Metro604.com. He lives in Surrey and is proud urbanist championing light rail, separated bike lanes, mid-rise walk-ups, and third places. He tweets @paulhillsdon
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3 Responses to Murky traffic, revenue projections behind Port Mann Bridge?

  1. David says:

    We’re already at the point where 80% of trips originating south of the Fraser also end on that side of the river. As Surrey builds its downtown and encourages more density and transit oriented development I expect even more people will stay on their own side of the water. Surrey may attract some more northerners travelling against the traditional rush direction, but we sure don’t need 5 lanes for them.

  2. Jesse Hausner says:

    Is there a self-sustained major infrastructure province around Metro-Vancouver from day-dot? Would be interesting to know what happened with even Expo line when it first opened with regards to projections at that time vs today.

    I agree though, the traffic projections are just a ‘tad’ suspect. I’d put money it’s probably the same people that projected traffic on the GEB. May be time for them to relook at their computer models before we get traffic projections for the new Tunnel/Patullo…

    I do think though eventually in the next decade the crossings will bring up revenue to a more break even level. But that’s just a guess and about as good as these projections are I’d imagine we’ll see.

  3. Tim says:

    Cycle of Transportation projects in the Lower Mainland:

    Transit:

    dream of rapid transit project

    government announces rapid transit project

    consultation of rapid transit project

    find out there is no money for rapid transit project

    stop rapid transit project

    Years pass…

    dream of rapid transit project

    government announces rapid transit project

    consultation of rapid transit project (dream of different technologies and routes)

    find out there is no money for rapid transit project

    stop rapid transit project

    repeat, repeat, repeat
    ……………………

    Highway Project:

    dream of Highway Project expansion with rapid transit & cycling included

    Government Announces Highway Project expansion with rapid transit & cycling included

    consultation? of Highway Project expansion – (do not listen to consultation as residents oppose/protest proposed routes)

    value engineering process

    build Highway Project expansion with all vehicle facilities, no rapid transit, no cycling facilities

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