The comedians in the Port Mann Bridge forecasting department are at it again: despite a 29 percent decline in traffic volumes on the Port Mann bridge between 2005 and 2014, the province is still predicting an immediate, sustained increase in traffic across the span:

Port-mann traffic 375

That’s right—despite years and years of being wrong about the direction of future travel trends, they think they’ve finally spotted signs of a turnaround. You see, traffic volumes in December 2014 and January 2015 were a wee bit higher than they were in December 2013 and January 2014. And apparently that was enough for them to declare that..

“Traffic volumes on the Port Mann Bridge are stable and growing.”

and to make a forecast of…

“continual, long-term traffic growth on the Port Mann Bridge at a rate of about 2.5% per year.”

Of course, they could be right: just because they’ve been ridiculously, flat-out wrong about every single forecast they’ve made to date doesn’t mean that they haven’t spotted a new trend. Still, you’d think that years of making preposterous traffic forecasts would give them a little humility.

But maybe they can’t afford to be humble. At this point Port Mann has become a major sore point for provincial transportation policy. The bridge is hemorrhaging red ink, and because traffic hasn’t lived up to expectations, tolls simply aren’t enough to cover the cost of operations and debt payments for construction. So at this point, the province probably thinks that anything other than complete confidence offers an opening to the critics.

To their credit, though, some of the province’s Port Mann forecasts are gradually inching towards reality. As Vaughn Palmer writes in the Vancouver Sunthe provincial government is no longer in flat-out denial about the bridge’s financial woes. Instead, they’ve finally owned to what has been obvious for a long time:

[T]he losses are expected to keep growing — to $101 million in the financial year beginning April 1, $102 million the following year and $106 million the year after that — which is the one when the tolling regime was originally slated to arrive at the break-even point.

But as the mounting losses point out, there really is a tragedy inside the comedy of Port Mann traffic forecasts. As losses mount, BC residents will keep paying for a project that they may not have needed, even as the real transportation priorities in the region—keeping transit running, and maintaining streets and bridges in good working order—get shortchanged.

March 6, 2015