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Bridge Look-out

September 14, 2012
4 Bridges on Fraser River   Late summer view of four bridges on Fraser River above New Westminster:   
Pattullo Bridge,
New Westminster Bridge,
the Port Mann bridge replacement  and
Port Mann Bridge.

Of the four bridges shown in this photo, three are, or were toll bridges.  The first was the New Westminster Bridge,  built for the Great Northern railway, but which had an upper deck added for pedestrians, horses and wagons.  It opened in 1904 and initially charged a toll, but as the only prior means of crossing the river was the Surrey ferry, which also charged for passage, a bridge toll did not seem out of line.

When a second tolled crossing was proposed by Premier Duff Pattullo during the Depression years, it was met with much public opposition. Objections were raised as to the necessity for the bridge, that the money could be put to better use, and that it would charge a toll unaffordable to suffering farmers in the Fraser Valley trying to get their produce to market.

"Protest Toll Bridge At Mass Meeting — Public indignation reached its height in Cloverdale on Monday night at the Mass Meeting in Protest against the New Westminster toll -bridge project."  – Surrey Leader, March 13, 1935

It was the latest overflow crowd in a series of public meetings held in Vancouver, New Westminster, Abbotsford and Chilliwack, albeit with organizing by opposition party CCF.

The Pattullo Bridge opened in 1937 with toll booths at the south end in Surrey.  The toll was disliked by businessmen as much as the public. In October 1939, J G Robson suggested to the New Westminster Board of trade that it should unite with the Vancouver Board of Trade to pressure the government to remove the toll. Robson believed that Lower Mainlanders, who already contributed most of the cost of the Provincial Government, were unfairly charged extra at the gate, while other projects in the Province were built and operated without tolls.

A  third bridge was built about four miles upstream,  a vital link in the construction of the new freeway route of the Trans-Canada Highway. British Columbia had a revitalized confidence and self-made swagger under Premier WAC Bennett and his gregarious Highways Minister,  Phil Gaglardi.  Not one to hold up traffic, "Flying Phil" imposed a speed limit of 70 miles an hour on the new highway.   Bennett threatened to replace all the Trans-Canada Highway signs with British Columbia Highway 1 signs to punish the feds for their lack of contribution to the project. The four-lane Port Mann Bridge was proudly opened, without tolls, in 1964.

The latest, hitherto un-named, bridge is nearly completed parallel to Port Mann Bridge and will open with tolls.

As to government policy, the last word on tolls must go to Dickens’ disgruntled turnpike collector, who had seen his business dwindle away to nothing as traffic flowed another way.

"But how to improve the Turnpike business?" said I.
"There’s a way master," said he, with the air of one who had thought deeply on the subject.
"I should like to know it."
"Lay a toll on everything as comes through; lay a toll on walkers. Lay another toll on everything as don’t come through; lay a toll on them as stops at home."
"Would the last remedy be fair?"
"Fair? Them as stops at home, could come through if they liked; couldn’t they?"
"Say they could."
"Toll ’em. If they don’t come through, it’s their look out. Anyway, —Toll ’em!"

[Quoted from  a Charles Dickens favourite collection, The Uncommercial Traveller.]

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