Extra traffic, crashes leading to regular delays on toll-free Port Mann Bridge
The Port Mann Bridge has seen its fair share of delayssince tolls were lifted on September 1st, and it’s not just the extra traffic volume. The crossing is handling an extra 30-thousand trips per day, leading to more significant accidents and frustrations for drivers. Commuters like Charity Long — who drives between Maple Ridge and Vancouver — have seen the difference. “My commute into work is an extra 25 minutes a day and my commute home has been at least an extra half hour,” she tells NEWS 1130, blaming more traffic and more accidents since the tolls were eliminated on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. Long almost wishes the province would start charging drivers for crossing them again. “Absolutely, it’s terrible,” she laughs. “It’s selfish but I want those tolls back on.” Jen Coles in the NEWS 1130 Traffic Centre reports on the Port Mann Bridge during the busy weekday commute and says the delays have noticeably increased along Highway One over the past six weeks. “There are definitely more collisions, more problems and more volume. Every day we are seeing an issue in that stretch between the Port Mann and the Iron Workers Memorial Crossing,” she says. “Now that we are into the fall we can see it is an increase in volume and, in turn, an increase in problems. People are not paying attention, they’re driving too fast and not leaving enough time and room, causing problems.” Coles says callers to 1130 have been frustrated. “We went from a bridge that was not seeing a lot of volume, with a quick commute through the Burnaby Lake stretch. When there was a problem it didn’t cause much of a back up — we hadn’t seen a back up into Surrey since the tolls were put in,” she explains. “When you remove the tolls you get more volume and more collisions and now people are late for work and they’re trying to race, which is only adding to the problems on the highway.” Those additional problems are not surprising to transportation expert Gordon Price at Simon Fraser University. “This is physics. Whether it’s atoms or automobiles, if you increase the number of units going the same speed in the same space, I think a physicist can probably work out exactly what you’re likely to see in the way of more collisions,” he says. Price suggests the return to longer delays on the Port Mann Bridge likely won’t change if the region moves ahead with some form of road-pricing as a replacement for individual bridge tolls. “It really isn’t reasonable or fair to think that tolling should only be on bridges, and certainly not for only parts of the region,” he adds. “But how you do it fairly across a whole region in a way that all transit users and drivers feel is fair — that’s the political challenge.” Price expects Metro Vancouver and the province to move forward with some form of mobility pricing — paying for distance travelled — as a replacement for bridge tolls. “One way or the other, new technologies are going to allow us to properly price the use of the road or any form of transportation in a way that better reflects what the real value is,” Price says. “Making the right choices is what the mobility pricing commission is looking at and ultimately what our political leaders are going to have to decide on.” Meantime, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena says increased traffic across the Port Mann was expected after tolls were removed. “We removed tolls because we wanted to make sure that people were being treated equitably, so that people living anywhere in the Lower Mainland weren’t having to pay an unfair charge to cross a bridge just because of where they lived,” she explains. “In that respect we’re seeing a huge success, people have been clearly, clearly showing how much they have wanted to use these bridges which indeed has caused congestion.” Trevena expects the congestion to balance out over the next while. She adds a commission put together by the Mayors’ Council is looking at road pricing options, and are expected to submit recommendations next year. “When they do report that it’s something we will look at but the issue of tolls was to deal with an equity issue –the fact that certain people living in certain parts of the Lower Mainland were being penalized simply because of where they lived.” When asked about a possible increase in the number of collisions, Trevena says the province is always concerned about that issue, as well as how it may affect ICBC rates. She adds provincial campaigns are trying to target distracted and dangerous drivers.