Motorists may be driving over part of the new Port Mann Bridge as early as September.
Tolls won’t be charged until the bridge formally opens with eight out of 10 lanes operational in December.
But Port Mann/Highway 1 Project spokesman Max Logan said some traffic will begin using at least a couple of lanes sometime this fall.
Shifting some traffic onto the new bridge will help with construction staging as crews still have extensive work ahead of them in the months ahead, notably in completing new overpasses at the Cape Horn interchange on the Coquitlam side.
“It could be as early as September,” he said. “It’s likely to be the eastbound lanes that are moved first. The details of that and the timing is still being worked out with the contractor.”
Logan likens the early lane openings to the traffic pattern changes that have seen exits and on-ramps shift to accommodate work along the 37-kilometre construction corridor.
“By shifting some lanes over to the bridge not only does that create some work space for us it also allows us to transition traffic gradually over to the new bridge.”
He said the transportation ministry wants to avoid anything like California’s multi-day freeway construction closures that have been dubbed Carmageddon.
“Phasing more gradually will minimize the impacts to traffic,” he said.
Drivers will be given plenty of advance warning of any changes, he said.
Logan said drivers won’t experience the full travel time savings until the initial eight lanes of the new bridge are open and electronic tolling begins.
It will take another year before all 10 lanes are in service, because the old bridge must be taken down before the last two lanes of the new span can be connected to Highway 1.
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom has said the planned $3 per crossing minimum toll may be lowered for the first year while only eight lanes are open. Tolling details are to be released in early September.
Also slated to open in December is the northeastern leg of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which promises a quick route to and from the Pattullo Bridge for drivers who want a free crossing, although critics predict heavy traffic on other roads in north Surrey, Delta, New Westminster and Burnaby.
Still to be determined is how a promised Highway 1 rapid bus service over the new bridge will be launched by cash-strapped TransLink.