The explanation by Translink of the more than 30% shortfall in traffic on the Golden Ears Bridge (GEB) turns to the pathetic farce [6][7].

Blame the economic downturn

The economic downturn is a usual scape goat for lot of things, including the miserable failing to secure private financing for the Port Mann bridge. A reality check is needed:

The Vehicle mile traveled has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US since their top. source (11)

As indicated by the graph above, Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US economy since their top. More important, one should note the halt of the progression in the VMT dates back to 2004-2005. In fact the steep increase in oil price, consequence of global growth has affected the travel pattern before the economic down turn.

One could argue that things could be different on toll roads and in Canada; but an examination of the Toronto’s toll road 407ETR recent results [5] confirms that the economic downturn has got little effect on the traffic, which didn’t prevent the 407ETR revenue to constantly grow up to now (2.5% in 2009).

traffic on the Toronto ETR has decreased only marginally. source (5)

One could argue that the truck traffic could be more affected by the economic downturn. That is fair, but from its own study [3] , Translink was not expecting more than 5% of truck traffic (what say a lot on the argument justifying such investment on the need to move goods).

Blame the lack of sprawl and transit usage

It could be a farce, but unafraid of the ridicule, it is what said the Translink spokesman, Ken Hardie, to the VancouverSun and other media outlet [6] [7] . That is clearly a shame for an agency supposed to be committed to creating a transportation system for a sustainable region and that is probably the bigger problem raised by this incestuous affair of Translink with the roads:

Translink is saddled with a money loosing investment, and in deep conflict of interest:

  • transit development in the area can’t do any good to the GEB financial sheet.

One should note that this pathetic deviation to the shaping of a “sustainable region” was already read in the translink GEB frequentation forecast study happily considering a linear infinite progression of car ownership and traffic in the region [3] , hitherto giving up on any transportation mode shift in the area.

Obviously those are not the real reasons, for the failure of the GEB to meet its traffic and revenue forecast. The real reason is the structure of the project itself:

The Pork Barrel theory

THE GEB case is not isolated, and example like the Clem7 in Brisbane, or the A14 [10] in Paris show that there is worse elsewhere. In fact a Standard&Poor study has shown that most of similar projects see their actual traffic as only 76% of the predicted one [1]. Lame excuses as worded by Translink has been advanced for such poor return on investment [4]… But a study sponsored by the European Investment Bank, has tried to understand why most of the P3 contracts are awarded on very optimistic forecast bias [2]. The conclusion – notice we don’t refer to the first populist rant found in your favorite tabloid– is that those P3 are often crafted to be a Pork barrel where lot of actors have a vested interest while they get exposed to little if any liabilities.

The GEB P3 doesn’t make exception

The Private sector obviously hasn’t put a penny on the phony forecast: It is no accident that Translink supports all the risks tied to the revenue side. In the meantimes the initial private parties have constituted some more or less shady adhoc companies to manage the GEB, companies with which they could easily severe ties whether liabilities could become a concern.

GEB revenue forecast (in 2003$). In yellow is the induced traffic by the bridge, in red is the traffic generated by sprawl. source Steer Davis for Translink (3)

A “phony” forecast can be achieved by means of “strategic error[2]. In the GEB example, we have already noticed the, not only undesirable from a sustainability viewpoint, but also unrealistic linear and infinite, growth in car ownership and vehicular traffic. More, the GEB forecast [3] takes account all the contributive investment inducing more traffic, like road widening, but carefully ignores the competitive ones, especially the then already under planned twinning of the Port Mann bridge [8]

Ironically, the Port Mann bridge twinning and all the Gateway projects in Lower Mainland rational are grounded on the same flawed studies, sometimes provided by the same consultant [9], which have proved widly inaccurate…That doesn’t prevent the province to proceed full steam ahead…

[1]Traffic Forecasting Risk Study Update 2005, Robert Bain and Lidia Polakovic, October 2005

[2]Why traffic forecasts in PPP contracts are often overestimated?, EIB University Research Sponsorship Programme, December 2007

[3] New Fraser River Crossing: Traffic and Revenue Forecasts, Steer Davies Gleave for GVTA, May 2004

[4] Error and optimism bias in toll road traffic forecasts Transportation, Netherlands, February 2009

[5] On The Right Track: Continuous Improvement In P3 Delivery, By ETR407 presented at BMO Capital Markets Infrastructure & Utilities Conference, Feb 18, 2010.

[6] noticeably it is said that “TransLink blames the poor economy, worse-than-expected development around the bridge and a jump in transit ridership on the buses and the West Coast express” by NEWS1130, June 3rd, 2010.

[7] TransLink considers reducing Golden Ears tolls, Kelly Sinoski, VancouverSun, June 3rd, 2010

[8] Opening up
, MOT, 2003

[9] Abstract of Studies – Gateway Program Traffic and Tolling Analysis, MOT, May 2006

[10] Autoroute A 14 Bilan LOTI, CGPC, November 2005 states an observed 2004 traffic at 61% of the forecast, on the A14 toll freeway opened in 1996

[11] Number of the US Federal Highway administration as of March 2010