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Number 2 of Top 12 of 2012

SURREY (NEWS1130) – While some people are still filing insurance claims from last week’s ‘ice bombs,’ we’re looking at the greater impact of the new Port Mann Bridge as part of our Top 12 stories of 2012.

The new crossing has helped to break the worst traffic bottleneck in the province, but has also led many drivers to find cheaper ways to get where they need to go.

After more than four years of construction and nearly a decade of planning, eight lanes of the new bridge opened December 1st.

“We’ve opened, now, the widest bridge in the world: the new Port Mann Bridge. Eight lanes, going to ten next year. This is a great day for commuters in the Lower Mainland,” said Transportation Minister Mary Polak at the grand opening.

In the first week, some drivers said their commute times were cut  in half, which is just what the province promised. It ends a back-up of more than a dozen kilometres that could last 14 hours a day.

“And for the first time in 25 years, the first regularly scheduled transit crossing will go across the Port Mann Bridge,” boasted Premier Christy Clark.

But of course, the new Port Mann hasn’t come without controversy. With a $1.50 toll that will double by this time next year, the bridge will eventually cost families upwards of $1,500 per vehicle per year, assuming two crossings a day.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has been calling for a regional tolling strategy that could see every bridge tolled.    “It is not fair and equitable, and the cost of tolling is exorbitant… Again, that’s problematic for us south of the Fraser.”

Just weeks after opening, the bridge failed its first winter storm test. A build up of ice and heavy, wet snow came raining down from the bridge’s cables on December 19th. More than 100 vehicles were damaged and police say two people were injured.

Minister Polak slammed partner Kiewit-Flatiron for the failure, and demanded an immediate fix against ice accretion.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” she repeated, adding temporary bridge closures are not an option in such conditions.

Project planners deny it was a design flaw and point out it’s a scenario that will not regularly inconvenience drivers.

The Port Mann Highway 1 Improvement Project has been called the most ambitious transportation project in BC history. The bridge aside, the rebuilt Cape Horn Interchange is dubbed a mega project within a mega project.

The new 10-lane bridge, 37 kilometres of widened freeway, and improved interchanges from McGill Street in Vancouver to 202 Street in Langley cost more than $3 billion.

The project is complete south of the Fraser River; the Vancouver, Burnaby, and Coquitlam portions will be complete by the end of next year.