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New West supports changes to McBride/East Columbia crossing

Part of Woodlands heritage wall to be relocated as part of Pattullo replacement project
The Pattullo Bridge replacement project is paving the way for a safer pedestrian/cyclist crossing at East Columbia Street and McBride Boulevard. File

New Westminster has given the green light to changes aimed at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety near the former Woodlands site.

As part of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project, the province is proposing changes to the East Columba Street and McBride Boulevard intersection, which require about 25% of the heritage wall in front of the Victoria Hill site to be relocated further north.

“I am pleased that we are looking to make a significant improvement,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “As someone who has crossed that crosswalk many times, it’s a bit uncomfortable. You just know as a pedestrian that the vehicles cannot see you. If they are making a right turn on a red light, which they are not supposed to, but they still do, it creates a really unsafe environment.”

On Monday, council approved issuance of a heritage alternation permit allows part of the Woodlands wall to be relocated as part of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project. The 1909 wall, which is more than 300 metres long and runs along the southern edge of the site, is protected by a heritage revitalization agreement and a heritage designation bylaw, so a heritage alteration permit is needed for this work to occur.

“The intersection currently has obstructed sightlines to cyclists and pedestrians crossing at this location, and it does not currently meet the engineering requirements for vehicle sightlines,” said Wendy Itagawa, executive project director of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project. “We would remove and rebuild the rehabilitated heritage wall. Sightlines for the westbound traffic would be much improved, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross the street on a new at-grade crossing.”

Transportation Investment Corporation, which is overseeing the bridge project on behalf of the province, said the modifications to the Woodlands heritage wall are needed to accommodate a new direct off-ramp from the bridge to East Columbia and to improve safety at this intersection.

“The city has been banging its head against the wall at that intersection for a long time trying to figure out how to make the geometry work to make it safe,” said Coun. Patrick Johnstone, “so I am glad to see we have gotten where we have.”

Johnstone emphasized the importance of maintaining access through this route during construction, or at least ensuring accessible, marked detour routes are available for cyclists, pedestrians and people who need mobility aids to get through the route.

Historical panels

As part of the changes being proposed to facilitate construction of the new crossing, the province is also making changes to the current plaza at the former Woodlands site. It will be enlarged and will include interpretive panels and historic markers for the Woodlands site entrance.

“As part of this proposal, approximate 85 metres of the existing heritage wall would be removed at the McBride and East Columbia intersection. A rehabilitated heritage wall would be built slightly north,” Itagawa said. “We are committed to acknowledging the historical significance of the existing heritage wall, while respecting the city’s heritage designation.”

On Monday, council directed staff to work with the reconciliation, social inclusion and engagement task force on the content of the proposed interpretive panels, and to ensure Inclusion BC and Community Living BC are engaged in discussions about the interpretive panels.

Itagawa assured council that more consultation will be done with Inclusion BC and Community Living Society, as well the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society and the city’s community heritage commission, to develop the form and the content of the proposed interpretative panels. She said the project is intended to enhance the community’s understanding of the cultural and historical significance of the Woodlands location.

“It’s a very sensitive site,” Cote said. “It’s a historical site, but it’s also a part of the city that has a really sad history in our community. I think we need to be sensitive and to tell that difficult part of our history and be sensitive in working with the community through that process. I am glad to hear the team’s commitment to that.”

Work underway

Construction of the new four-lane bridge is continuing, with the new crossing expected to open in 2024.

Itagawa said in-river work on the new bridge’s foundation is continuing on the both the New Westminster and Surrey sides of the crossing.

“More work will be done on that in the coming months,” she said. “We also anticipate beginning work on the second in-river bridge foundation closer to New Westminster as well this season.”

In addition to construction that’s taking place in the Fraser River, on-land work is also taking place in New Westminster this year.

“Upcoming work in New West includes site preparation and investigation, groundwork and utility relocation,” Itagawa said. “This will be followed by bridge foundation construction in New West.”

Itagawa said the project team is implementing a number of measures to reduce the impacts of construction noise, lighting and dust on nearby residents. It’s also working with Metro Vancouver, which is currently working on a sewer main project on Columbia Street, to coordinate traffic management between the two projects.

“The project will also require temporary closures of Front Street between East Columbia and Begbie Street,” Itagawa said. “Access to Front Street Mews, Quayside Drive and Begbie will be maintained.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr questioned when Front Street would be closed to traffic. He urged the project team to ensure it’s proactive in communicating the road closure and that signage is posted to ensure people know the businesses are still open.

Itagawa said the project team is still working with its contractor to finalize dates for the Front Street closure, but it could potentially be next spring.

“Construction projects aren’t easy to live through, and this is obviously a very big one that’s right in your city,” she told council. “But we are committed to working with you and city staff to make sure that everyone has updated information, and we will make things flow as easily and as efficiently as possible.”

Cote said it’s good to hear the project team is committed to engaging with the community and the city to ensure it can mitigate construction impacts as much as possible.

“We have been talking about the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge for more than 20 years in the community,” he said. “I think it is good that it is finally reaching this stage. I think we certainly have pushed the old bridge to end of its functional life. I don’t think we had a lot more time to push it any further. Obviously it’s a needed replacement infrastructure project connecting our community with Surrey and the Fraser Valley.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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