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Posted: August 26, 2017

Toll toss a crack in the ring

Kootenay Crust

By Ian Cobb

Do you need proof the NDP functions solely in the sphere of doing what it sees as being good for the Lower Mainland and says “nuts to the rest of B.C.?”

Look no further than the dismantling of the bridge tolls for the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on August 25.

Premier John Horgan hufflepuffed and dither-fluppled and blew down the nasty, hated bridge tolls established by the former Liberal government in a bid to make ‘users pay’ for the massively expensive replacement and upgrades of those bridges.

“We’re taking immediate action to make life more affordable and get people moving by scrapping unfair tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges,” said Premier Horgan. “This is just one of many steps we’ll be taking in the coming weeks and months to make life easier for families throughout British Columbia.”

Come on Mister Premier, quit faffing about; you mean families in the Lower Mainland.

How will the bills for those big bridge projects be paid? By B.C. taxpayers – including a couple million of us who rarely use the bridges in Vancouver, save the odd times we are forced to venture into that planning mess.

It cost $3.3 billion for the replacement of the gigantic Port Mann Bridge, including operation and maintenance. The bridge was opened in 2012.

It cost about $800-million to build the Golden Ears Bridge, which was opened in 2009. I’m lousy at math but that is $4.1 billion in bridges that benefit 2.4 million of British Columbia’s 4.63 million residents. That’s barely more than half the population; so there is that.

Wait! Hold the bus. Less than half the population supported the NDP in the last election… most from the Lower Mainland. Hmm?

“Many people have been travelling out of their way to avoid tolls because they simply cannot afford them,” said Premier Horgan. “Getting rid of tolls will shorten commute times and clear up other routes, so people can spend less time stuck in traffic and more time with their families.”

Typical bloody NDP! I have held back on ranting about this lot since the NDP/Green bloc formed to take down Christy Clark and the Liberals after they narrowly beat them in the election. “Give them a chance,” said the journalist in me.

Screw that,” now shouts the Kootenayite in me. Here we go again, having to pay more out of our tax dollars to support that impossible cluster pook in Vancouver, which is the NDP’s home nest, filled with recently tickled residents promised a break on bridge tolls during the May election.

Ooh look; the premier came through on an election promise. A clown promise, but a promise all the same.

In the provincial government’s own press release, it sideways notes the volume of dollars being lost, that were being applied to the bridge debts.

“Each day, approximately 121,000 vehicles cross the Port Mann Bridge, with another 40,000 vehicles taking the Golden Ears Bridge. In addition to the costs borne by commuters, the tolls increased congestion along other transportation corridors,” the release stated.

Currently, the toll to cross the Port Mann is $3.15 for cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, $6.30 for medium-sized vehicles, e.g., a car with a trailer or a motorhome, and $9.45 for commercial vehicles.

The toll to cross the Golden Ears is $3.20 to $4.45 for cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, $6.35 to $7.55 for medium-sized vehicles, and $9.45 to $10.70 for commercial vehicles.

That would suck having to pay those tolls but such is life in an endlessly growing city. You want to live there; deal with it.

Now, if we take just the 121,000 vehicles crossing the Port Mann Bridge every day and for the sake of easy math state they are all cars – that is $381,150 a day in lost revenue.

Tolls were supposed to be removed by 2050, or after $3.3 billion was collected to pay off the Port Mann.

So, from an astronomical volume of money being kind of-sort of collected (massive sums in tolls remain unpaid) every day, to be applied to the bridge debts – there is zilch going to it. That same pile of money Victoria sucks out of our pockets every year, which is supposed to pay for everything we deem needed and important in our society, is now going to rapidly shrink.

Where will the NDP make up the difference? You got it; we suckers out here beyond Hope, bracing for a ceaseless NDP hammer job, while they solidify their big city hold with ill-conceived promises designed to win an election.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena says the government will continue to invest in the roads, bridges and other transportation projects British Columbians need to help people get around – without “unfairly hitting some families and businesses with tolls” (alas then unfairly hit those of us who might cross one of those bridges once every four years with the bull crap burden of having to help pay for them). All for one and one for all, eh? The new minister had the audacity to push the ‘who cares about the interior’ envelope further in today’s press release.

“Unlike the previous government, we’re not going to pit one region of the province against the other,” said Trevena. “We’re going to deliver on the investments needed to serve families and grow our economy, across B.C. in a way that is fair for all families.”

Those are words that might work for Captain Grunting Meat Popsicle in Coquitlam do not hit the eardrums as well for the hard working, hard playing East Kootenayite, where heavy industry generates mammoth volumes of revenue for Victoria that is never fairly returned. But it is nice for us folks on the far eastern edge of the province to spend money on new bridges so Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge folks can access Langley without waiting for a damned ferry.

Yes, these bridges came about because of the now ousted Liberal government, but they had a plan in place to help pay for the things. It is a commonly used plan around the globe; user pay is not a new concept.

“But why should the users pay when EVERYONE can pay?” the NDP proffered during the election. They didn’t actually say that, but near as be damned.

And if you think I am just being a grumpy ‘small c conservative loser,’ consider these words.

“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy. There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and childcare. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs.”

You may be thinking that was a senior Liberal Party MLA.

You are wrong. It is Premier Horgan’s party-in-power building bloc buddy – Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.

“Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand. Transport demand management reduces pollution and emissions, alleviates congestion and helps pay for costly infrastructure. That’s why, at the negotiating table when preparing our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we ensured that a commitment was included to work with the Mayors’ Council consultation process to find a more fair and equitable way of funding transit for the long-term. We look forward to that commitment being met so that British Columbians can have an evidence-based, truly fair approach to this file,” Weaver said in a media release.

So while Premier Horgan and company busied themselves finding ways to make taxpayers pay for more things we can’t afford this morning, a loud crack was heard coming from Victoria.

It came from the bond holding the NDP and Green Party together in their tenuous bloc.

Horgan’s announcement this morning may reduce the daily costs of hundreds of thousands of commuting Lower Mainlanders, but it may be a bridge too far when it comes to maintaining his alliance with the man who is but isn’t the Premier; Andrew Weaver.

Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW

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