SURREY (NEWS1130) – The $1.3-billion South Fraser Perimeter road is 50 per cent complete and is touted as the toll-free alternative for the new Port Mann Bridge, but you may not find the free choice to be that convenient.

The first phase of the new highway only takes you to the Pattullo Bridge, while the rest opens late next year, according to Transportation Investment Corporation CEO Mike Proudfoot.

‘(Reporter): People are going to have to detour off a highway, drive through New West, to get to the toll free alternative? Is that correct?’

“Yes, that’s correct, to the Pattullo Bridge,” Proudfoot responds. “The direct connection is via Brunette, over the Pattullo, to the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which is an 80 km/hr route to Highway One and 176 Street.”

That ‘direct’ connection is congested a good portion of the day.  When asked what traffic impact that could have and how many people could try to avoid the toll, Proudfoot responded, “There have been traffic studies done and there’s no appreciable difference to the diverted traffic.”

A free option to avoid the Port Mann has always been promised.  “[It] connects to all of the crossings of the Fraser,” Proudfoot says. Three dollar tolls on the new, nearby Port Mann begin once it opens in December.

As well the Port Mann Highway 1 project tweeted us to say, “our modeling shows [alternate] route travel times will be similar to drive times experienced currently on Port Mann Bridge.”
   
Your free alternative might end up congested opening day. It is slated to be a major trucking route for loads headed to and from Deltaport, but is also being built with traffic signals.  That has raised concerns about idling engines and accidents.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom says it’s meant to save you money.  “Intersections versus interchanges, that’s been looked at in the development of this road,” he points out.  “A determination was made that the intersections would meet the demands of this highway. We have though planned for the future with the purchase of the land for the interchanges if they’re needed and preload work is underway right now.”

Lekstrom admits interchange upgrades could be up to 20 years away. Delta and Surrey have argued the highway should be built to freeway standard from the get-go.  “The argument would be made by the taxpayers as to how much money we actually have,” Lekstrom retorts, saying it’s not that easy.  “This is a joint project between the federal government for ourselves.  I know people like to spend money they just don’t like to pay taxes and that’s a challenge we have in society.”

The original cost of the SFPR in 2006 was $800 million with a contingency fund of $300 million.  Rising real estate prices for expropriation pushed the cost of the project up, as did other outside costs, leading to today’s $1.3 billion figure.

The new highway will open as far as the Pattullo Bridge in December, with the full 40 kilometre stretch to Deltaport and Tsawwassen opening late 2013.  Its east end connects with a new interchange at Highway One and 176 Street.