Sea to Sky highway will cost over $600 million- so why do they get to drive for free?

As a taxpayer in the province of BC, I have a question for the transportation minister, Kevin Falcon, and our Premier Gordon Campbell.

The Golden Ears Bridge project costs $800 million  and will be a toll bridge to cover costs.

The Port Mann Twinning project will cost  $1. 5 billion, and again, will be a toll bridge to cover costs.

The new Patullo Bridge project – cost unknown but guaranteed mega$$$$$– already is planned to be another toll bridge.

THE SEA TO SKY HIGHWAY PROJECT – $ 600 miliion dollars – or more – NO TOLLS.

Those toll booths on the Patullo, Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be faced directly by residents of Surrey and Langely – and it hardly seems fair. Both the Sea-to-Sky highway and the new Kelowna bridge, as well as the Pitt River Bridge (part of the province’s Gateway program), are all TOLL FREE.

My question to Premier Gordon Campbell ? Why is that very expensive Sea to Sky highway toll free ? Why are some of us getting dinged up to three times, and yet all the the millions of people who drive up to Whistler all summer, and every winter get to do so for free?

A letter to the editor in the Surrey Leader recently highlighted the disparity between the projects. I include it here in its entirety because the writer, Derek Zeisman did such an excellent job.

“Road tolls a double standard

Your editorial praising road tolls (Tolls Won’t Hurt Us, Oct. 8) misses the point.

The Coquihalla Highway was opened as a toll route in 1987 because it represented a major expenditure of public funds, some $840 million. Obviously the same logic holds for the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge ($1.5 billion) and the construction of the new Golden Ears Bridge ($800 million). Thus the province’s rationale for imposing new tolls on these routes.

Of course, the province also has another major road construction project currently underway, the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Estimated cost: $600 million. Planned toll: zero.

Regardless of the perceived “need” to upgrade the Sea-to-Sky route prior to the 2010 Olympics, there is a serious double standard on display here. The overtaxed, mostly working- and middle-class residents of Surrey and the Fraser Valley (combined population: one million plus) will soon be forced to pay 35 years worth of tolls on such vital transportation routes as the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

Meanwhile, the wealthier residents along the Sea-to-Sky, in communities from West Vancouver to Whistler (combined population: well under 100,000) are excused from paying any tolls on their own project, despite a cost not far off that of the original Coquihalla project. Why?

This is political hypocrisy of the worst sort, and Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals are to blame. If they (like the Surrey Leader) see such merit in imposing road tolls to fund major transportation projects, then fine, impose the tolls – but do it in a fair, transparent and above all, consistent manner. That means tolls for all, or tolls for none – not some silly patchwork system that places the burden for our public infrastructure on Average Joe Taxpayer, while providing a “get out of jail free” card for the well-off jet-setters in Whistler and the British Properties.

Some will undoubtedly argue that Sea-to-Sky tolls would have a negative impact upon our plans to attract Olympic tourists. I call that a captive audience – a perfect fundraising scenario for any toll route. However, if deemed necessary, such a toll could always be delayed until after 2010.

Others will argue the Sea-to-Sky should not be tolled because no alternate route exists between Greater Vancouver and Whistler. But this argument holds little weight, when you consider that the Pattullo Bridge – a semi-viable alternative to the Port Mann for some travellers – will soon be tolled as well, leaving the people of Surrey and the Fraser Valley at the mercy of those who wish to pick our pockets.

Your editorial claims that “tolls won’t hurt us.” Perhaps not – but a $2.50 toll to cross the Port Mann, while the well-to-do types scooting up to Whistler pay nothing, certainly does sting.

Derek Zeisman


*** Update… turns out the reason we don’t pay tolls on the Sea to Sky is because there is already a hidden toll installed as part of the payment mechanism to the builder. A ‘Shadow Toll’ – find out the entire story on this page, scroll down the the Shadow Toll on the Sea to Sky highway series

7 thoughts on “Sea to Sky highway will cost over $600 million- so why do they get to drive for free?

  1. My only question would be, is there an alternate route established for the public to access the area served by the highway that they would not have to pay a toll for?


  2. GR,

    Yes there is, albeit it is a much longer route up the Fraser Canyon and back through the Duffy Lake Road. The province currently bills the alternate route as part of a scenic circle drive that includes Whistler on their tourism/higways website.

    People who have the cash to visit Whisler, and access all the incredible recreational offerings, have the cash to pay a toll to get there- it is an international winter and summer destination. It’s not like it would make 0 impact on tourism because the alternate route is twice as long.

    So, Premier, where is the answer? Paul, as a candidate for council here in Surrey, and a big advocate for tranportation issues, perhaps you can help me get the answer, and push for another solution.


  3. No, Gordo and his buddy John Les (who Gordo put in as our top cop) have already set themselves up in Chilliwack (Agassiz) and by diverting land out of the ALR to build a subdivision, which also now includes a big patch of land out in Vernon. These jokesters sure love their money, don’t they. Doesn’t matter who they screw over. Now they’re being investigated by the RCMP and an independent judge.
    I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer on this theft, because we taxpayers have been waiting 5 years for an answer on the BC Rail ripoff.
    I knew the province was in for it when I found that Campbell was running for Premier after all the scams he tried when he was mayor of Vancouver.
    Remember the Woodwards scam he tried when he was mayor before he got caught and changed his approach. He just never had enough lawyers (paid for by the taxpayer) to delay the outcome.
    I believe there should be a double toll for the sea-to-sky highway, the way they bulldozed over the people who were rightfully against the route.
    How many of Gordo’s buddies have property in that corridor. I bet dollars to doughnuts Gordo and/or his wife (or subsidiary) have a nice sized chunk already. Doesn’t his wife (and , in turn Gordo himself) already own property out that way??
    Yeah, thought so.
    Who’s fooling who, Gordo.


  4. Yes, unfortunate for those of us who will be paying tolls up the ying-yang once those bridges are done – either that, or drive miles out of our way to avoid them, thus paying just as much in fuel.

    Either way, residents of Langley/Surrey and the Valley are screwed, and those in the rich corridor are laughing all the way to umbertos in Whistler.

    I don’t recall this ever being discussed – so you? Why is it that this highway expansion has to be swallowed at huge cost to all taxpayers when such an easy solution lies right there?

    And what about the other not talked about aspect of all this expansion – I hear that the highway won’t be open to the general public during 2010- all private vehicles will be banned and everyone must go by bus dfor security and parking issues.
    Haven’t heard much talk about this either, except for one little blurb in a local paper a year ago. What a waste.


  5. Just as BC passenger ships charge a one-way fee to travel to the small islands, the Sea to Sky could charge a one-way fee for those traveling north on the Sea to Sky. The tricky part is where to put the toll booths so people living just north of Horseshoe Bay are not paying for just a few kilometers of travel.


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