By Michael Mui in 24 Hours – curiously, one of the only papers to high-profile this.
The tolled Port Mann Bridge is seeing a decline in the number of drivers using the span as the province holds its breath for traffic volumes to “mature.”
But while government waits, Transportation Investment Corp. — the Crown corporation overseeing the bridge — reports projected debt levels for this year have reached $3.6 billion, and its deficit is expected to reach $459 million by the 2016/17 fiscal year.
Dermod Travis, executive director for Integrity B.C., said it’s taxpayers taking a hit as government waits to receive revenues from the Crown corporation.
“They’re saying the traffic is coming back now that people can see they’re saving so much time — well they’re not coming back because traffic is down in 2014 compared to 2013,” he said.
“They have dampened their goals every year — they’ve increased taxpayer exposure to the bridge.”
The bridge replacement was intended to be funded by public-private partnership, but it was announced in late February 2009 that the province would build the bridge under a fixed-price contract of $2.46 billion.
The project was always going to lose money at the beginning, but the plan was for the debt to be paid off using tolling revenues.
In 2012, according to the B.C. government’s budget and fiscal plan of the time, which details revenues from Crown corporations, the province had anticipated revenue shortfalls of $125 million between 2012/13 and 2014/15, to “reflect operating losses during the construction phase” — expecting those to change to “net income as tolls are introduced.”
But by the time of the 2014 budget and fiscal plan, those forecasts had been significantly changed, now showing a $240-million revenue shortfall for the same years, with more losses predicted ahead.
In the document, government was also less optimistic on when TI Corp. would begin generating net revenues, saying TI Corp. would start turning a profit “as traffic volumes mature.”
But it doesn’t appear traffic volumes are growing. In 2006/07, according to a statement from TI Corp., the average weekly summertime “peak” traffic numbers were around 127,000 vehicles per day.
In August 2013 — the highest average daily figure for that year — traffic volumes were at 112,700 per day. In August 2014, which was also the busiest month that year for Port Mann, the figure fell to 110,600.
TI Corp is blaming transit:
“These volumes are lower than the 2006/7 number because of a number of factors, such as the 2008 recession, drivers avoiding the corridor during construction, as well as the popularity of the new ExpressBus service, which all occurred after the original traffic forecast were developed during the PMH1’s design phase,” reads a statement from TI Corp.
The corporation said a revised forecast has now been developed.
TI Corp. says its new forecast confirms its ability to meet financial obligations without taxpayer support, and expects to pay off its debt by 2050.
And then, in a poll below the article:
As I don’t have to remind PT readers, Sightline was on to this years ago, as part of their “Dude, Where are My Cars” series:
Just one of many examples of ‘Motordom Fail’ in traffic forecasting, documented here.
Motorist response to Port Mann – still current, as the above poll indicates – confirms that tolls create behaviour change. Assumptions about increased convenience and time saved are not a reliable basis for making multi-billion-dollar decisions. And yet, that is exactly what is happening with the Massey Bridge proposal: “B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel.”
|For Immediate Release
2013PREM0095-001430Sept. 20, 2013
|Office of the Premier
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel
VANCOUVER – Today, Premier Christy Clark announced that the Government of British Columbia will move ahead on the project to replace the George Massey Tunnel, with construction of a new bridge on the existing Highway 99 corridor to begin in 2017.
“We are keeping our promise to replace the George Massey Tunnel and improve the Highway 99 corridor, starting in 2017,” said Premier Christy Clark. “Congestion at the tunnel is frustrating for families and stalling the economy. A new bridge will improve travel times for transit, commuters and commercial users, and open the corridor up to future rapid transit options.”
Consider the double irony here:
(1) Billions will be spent on the bridge – without a vote by those who will be paying for it, most likely by tolls – on the basis that it will address congestion, something that could be done tomorrow by putting a toll on the tunnel and using the revenues to vastly improve transit south of the Fraser, especially in South Surrey.
The first action would, like the Port Mann, reduce existing traffic, possibly enough to mitigate congestion, and the revenues would provide another transportation option that would reduce car traffic even more. And yet, this is considered to be politically impossible, and violates existing provincial policy which requires a free alternative to the tolled project, which then undermines its financial viability.
(2) The requirement for a referendum on transit means, if it fails, that there will be no funding for the “future rapid transit options” that the bridge is being built to accommodate. Why, then, is transit funding not included in the budget of the bridge? And of course, as PT has noted repeatedly and will continue to do so, why is there a vote required for one and not the other? (And why is there still not an answer to that question from the premier?)
Why, in short, do we overbuild road infrastructure and underbuild transit? Why is one guaranteed funding and the other put at risk by the plebiscite requirement? Why is TransLink condemned for incompetency and yet the provincial decision-makers not called for accountability when Motordom Fails on the scale of the Port Mann?