Blair Lekstrom launches advertising blitz to get motorists to use new Port Mann Bridge
The B.C. Liberal government talks a good game of fiscal restraint.
But according to an article on the News 1130 website, Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom is spending $400,000 to persuade people to use the new Port Mann Bridge.
The money will go into an advertising campaign for the $3.3-billion project.
There's a $3 toll each way, which will help finance the 25,000 tonnes of asphalt across 10 lanes, and stretching for 2,020 metres.
The Port Mann Bridge website brags that you could fit 34 hockey rinks along the bridge and still have room to hold the Stanley Cup victory parade.
If you're wondering why the government is advertising to get people to use a bridge that everyone already knows about, the Fraseropolis blog offers a clue.
In February, the author of the blog, Thomas Ian McLeod, wrote a post raising serious questions about the revenue assumptions for the new bridge. Included was this paragraph:
The forecast goes like this: Assuming that traffic volumes are as predicted, toll revenues in the first full year of operation would neatly cover interest and operating costs, but would not touch the $3.2+ billion principal, so more debt would go into the pile. In the second year, revenues would jump by 13 per cent (!), allowing a nibble at the principal, but not enough to stop the debt from growing further. In the following two years, revenues would grow by something like 12 per cent to reach the break-even level.
McLeod pointed out that rising fuel prices, telecommuting, and Internet shopping are all having an impact on driving habits.
"The issue matters because if toll revenues are steady rather than rising in the first five years of Port Mann operations, B.C. taxpayers could be on the hook for a problem mounting into the hundreds of millions of dollars," he noted.
Lekstrom's response is an advertising campaign.
Over the short term, these ads will bring some taxpayer-funded revenue to some large media corporations (Black Press? Postmedia? Corus Entertainment?) in the year leading up to an election.
However, this public-relations blitz won't speak to the central issue. And that is whether or not the finance minister, Kevin Falcon, sold British Columbians a boondoggle of a bridge when he was transportation minister in the Gordon Campbell government.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.