VICTORIA – British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is set to get more and better bridges, wider and longer highways and more bicycle paths as part of a $3-billion plan to stave off gridlock.

The Gateway plan — which was announced yesterday — includes tolls for cars that cross the busy Port Mann Bridge over the Fraser River to travel in and out of Vancouver.

Gordon Campbell, the B.C. Premier, described Gateway as a keystone in his government’s plan to turn B.C. into the funnel through which Asian goods will pour into North America.

Even if B.C. does nothing, container traffic will more than double in the next 15 years, he said. If B.C. wants to increase its share of trade, “we’re going to have to invest more.”

“We believe that we can reach for a whole new set of opportunities in this province, which will bring thousands and thousands of new jobs,” he said, adding that port-related jobs can be increased from 26,000 today “to 71,000 direct jobs.”

The plan, which will be put to public hearings, includes a potential $2.50 toll each way for private vehicles on the Port Mann Bridge.

The B.C. government warns that if Vancouver and its satellite cities want to avoid becoming the Los Angeles of the North, they’d better start reining in their love for cars.

However, the B.C. government plans some major expenditures to make it easier for those who must use cars to get in and out of the city. These include:

– $1.5-billion for the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the highway that leads to it. The project would include bicycle lanes and an engineering plan allowing for the future inclusion of a light-transit railway line when merited by the population and traffic.

– $800-million to build a four-lane, 80 km/h highway on the south shore of the Fraser River, from Delta to the Golden Ears Bridge, with a connection to the important trade artery of Highway 1.

– $400-million for an improved highway from New Westminster to Maple Ridge. It will include a new seven-lane bridge to replace swing bridges over the Pitt River. This is expected to ease flow into existing highways.

– $300-million for a contingency fund in case the projects go over budget.

– $50-million on bike paths to encourage people to use bicycles when possible.

The government report says if nothing is done, Port Mann Bridge users could, by 2011, face a 12-kilometre lineup to get on the bridge. In 2003, the lineup was five kilometres long.

The B.C. government has not detailed how it plans to pay for the program, but Mr. Campbell indicated it will ask for federal government help. And as much as half the cost — $1.5-billion — may be raised through tolls on the Port Mann Bridge.