We need some true leadership from Victoria on this portfolio and if we don’t get it soon we face gridlock in an ever widening area of the province…

Making sense of motoring madness in B.C. was the title of book published in the 1990s.

I recall it well because I wrote it and, observing what’s going on out there today, I’m beginning to think it’s time to prepare a new edition. The first edition dealt largely with the rules of the road but I guess a new version should look at the motoring mayhem we likely face if we do not get our infrastructure act together very soon.

The dreaded words “carbon tax” and “tolls” are currently being bandied around in relation to the recent Metro Vancouver mayors’ $7.5-billion transportation investment plan. The conundrum is that while the public screams for new roads and transit it doesn’t want to pay more either directly in taxes or through either of the aforementioned financing mechanisms.

A common cry is that governments at all levels should make do with what they have; such is the lack of trust in how they currently spend our money. That said it is unlikely there is enough fat in the system to fund the kind of transit and highway projects desired by the metro Vancouver area.

And this is not a problem exclusive to the south coast. In recent weeks, I’ve driven a number of regions in the province and there isn’t one that wouldn’t benefit from improvements. As I was crossing the $180 million William R. Bennett Bridge the spans Okanagan Lake to Kelowna, I couldn’t help but think that it was likely the last major bridge that would be built without the introduction of a toll.

A regional carbon tax, likely to be included in the cost of fuel, was a suggestion not well met by Lower Mainlanders, who now pay around $1.50 a litre for gas. Nevertheless, it might be a more equitable approach if it is regional rather than one levied across the entire province. It is truly a form of user pay taxation if the revenue is used exclusively in the area in which it is collected. You don’t trust that to happen, eh? – Thought not.

Tolls are another option but if they are charged only on specific new bridges, they tend to be expensive and thus encourage avoidance resulting in the clogging up of alternate routes. If one flat rate toll is applied to all crossings then people who have crossed their area’s bridges free of charge for years complain of unfairness. Another option is to include a transportation element in property taxes but that’s a no-go area for local politicians of all stripes.

The Metro Vancouver wish list will go to referendum next spring. Let me predict it will fail to win enough public support and we will be back where we started. We will be screaming for transportation upgrades but will have no way of paying for them.

We need some true leadership from Victoria on this portfolio and if we don’t get it soon we face gridlock in an ever widening area of the province.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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