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New Westminster mayor sees bridge toll removal as a mixed blessing

Tolls to be eliminated on Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges
WATCH: Tolls to be eliminated on Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges

The mayor of New Westminster has mixed feelings about the provincial government’s plan to remove tolls from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

In the short term, removing the tolls will alleviate some of the congestion that has built up on the aging Pattullo Bridge over the years, said Jonathan Cote.

READ MORE: B.C. NDP eliminating Golden Ears and Port Mann bridge tolls starting Sept. 1

That congestion, which feeds into New Westminster’s downtown core, has become a major headache for the city.

But at the same time, Cote said he’s worried about how the region will now fund the replacement project for the 80-year-old span.

“The new Pattullo Bridge was anticipated to have 70 per cent of the costs covered by tolling,” said Cote.

“So the ball is in the provincial government’s court to make up the funding that has not only been lost on the Port Mann and Golden Ears, but also the funding that was anticipated to cover the costs of building the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge.”

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WATCH: NDP announce the removal of Metro Vancouver bridge tolls

NDP announce the removal of Metro Vancouver bridge tolls
NDP announce the removal of Metro Vancouver bridge tolls

Earlier this summer, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond called replacing the bridge “the highest infrastructure issue on our agenda,” and said the goal was to have a replacement completed by 2023.

Axing the tolls will also increase the urgency for a regional conversation on road and mobility pricing, Cote said.

“I think that’s going to be absolutely critical if we’re going to manage congestion and reduce congestion in the region.”

READ MORE: Infrastructure funding in the spotlight as bridge tolls fall

The Metro Vancouver Mayors Council has voted to move forward with some form of mobility pricing — a scheme that would charge drivers for road use — in order to fund future infrastructure development.

The federal and provincial governments have committed to funding 80 per cent of the transit projects in the mayors’ 10 year plan, leaving Metro Vancouver on the hook for the remaining 20 per cent.

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council established a commission to sketch out a plan for a mobility pricing scheme earlier this summer.

A report is due by the spring of 2018.