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New Westminster unveils Pattullo Bridge position

City supports four-lane options
Wayne Wright
Mayor Wayne Wright outlined the city's position about the replacement of Pattullo Bridge at a press conference in council chambers March 5.

No more than four – that’s the city’s stance on the number of lanes it will support on a new Pattullo Bridge.

The City of New Westminster is calling for a new or rehabilitated four-lane tolled Pattullo Bridge, as well as proper connections from South Fraser Perimeter Road to Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge, but neighbouring Surrey has been pressing for a new six-lane crossing.

“We know that four lanes will work, but it has to have a tolls on it so we can go back to livability,” Mayor Wayne Wright said at a press conference in council chambers on Wednesday.

According to the city, replacement of Pattullo Bridge was proposed to address the structural integrity of the aging crossing – not to increase road capacity. City officials point out that traffic volumes on the Pattullo Bridge have been decreasing in recent years, but that changed when tolls were introduced on the new Port Mann Bridge and the Pattullo provided a free alternative.

“These tolls have led to a significant increase of traffic, including truck traffic, over the bridge, on major arterial streets and on our local streets, as drivers seek to find faster ways to avoid congestion – congestion because we have no streets on our side big enough to take the volumes coming over the bridge,” Wright said. “In fact, traffic on the bridge has increased by 8,000 trips per day, accompanied by a 75 per cent growth in truck traffic on Royal Avenue.”

The city released the 33-page report, A Reasonable Approach: A Perspective on the Pattullo Bridge, on Wednesday.

“The Pattullo, as the free alternative, is significantly and negatively affecting the livability of New Westminster," Wright said. “Tolls on a new four-lane bridge are needed, not only to finance the new bridge, but also as a critical measure to lower demand for car travel over the bridge and to promote the use of alterative transportation modes.”

Wright said a new four-lane bridge must also respect New Westminster's established urban and historic context.

“Freeway style on- and off-ramps are not an option in New Westminster's highly urbanized context. It’s impossible,” he stressed. “We have no room without destroying our neighbourhoods and without destroying our parks. And our road network has no room to expand.”

Along with a four-lane tolled replacement for the Pattullo Bridge, the City of New Westminster supports a direct link between South Fraser Perimeter Road and the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge. Without a direct connection, the city says regional truck traffic will continue to be a significant challenge for New Westminster and impact the community’s livability.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said a new tolled four-lane bridge would cost $850 million and a rehabilitated four-lane bridge would cost $250 million. He said that compares to a $1.5 billion estimated cost of a new six-lane bridge.

“The new, four-lane tolled bridge would be directly upstream of the existing bridge, essentially the same alignment,” he said of the proposal.

New Westminster is also willing to consider an option calling for a rehabilitation of the existing Pattullo Bridge into three lanes, combined with a new four-lane crossing from Surrey to Coquitlam.

“It is still on the table. It is still under review,” Lowrie said. “The rehabilitation option, TransLink would like to take off the table.”

According to Lowrie, opening day volumes on a new four-lane bridge would be 49,000 vehicles, compared to 52,000 vehicles on costlier six-lane bridge. The city believes the money saved by building a four-lane crossing could be better used on other traffic and transportation initiatives, such as a light rail transit system in Surrey.

Surrey Coun. Tom Gill, chair of the city’s transportation and infrastructure committee, told the Surrey NOW that Surrey stands by its position that the bridge should be replaced, and it should have six lanes. He said rehabilitating of the Pattullo Bridge isn’t viable and is a “poor choice” in utilizing taxpayer’s money.
“We’ve taken the position that we think the six-lane is appropriate,” he told the NOW. “I would go as far as to say that we should be concentrating on a six-lane bridge.”
With the provincial government recently offering to contribute one-third of the cost of replacing the Pattullo Bridge, Gill said it’s important for the cities to work together to reach a decision. Both cities, along with Coquitlam, have been working with TransLink on a strategic review of the Pattullo Bridge.
Wright said New Westminster’s streets are already highly congested for much of the day, so there’s no place for additional traffic to go once it crosses the bridge into the Royal City.
“It’s not that we don’t want it – we have no more room,” he said. “There’s no room on the streets.”
B.C. Transportation Minster Todd Stone recently outlined changes to TransLink’s governance structure and asked TransLink’s mayors' council on regional transportation to report back on its key priorities. As a result of that request, TransLink recently postponed a consultation process that was set to begin about the Pattullo Bridge, in order to give the mayors’ council time to determine how the Pattullo Bridge project fits into the regional vision.

“The Pattullo was on the list of to-do’s,” said Wright, a member of the mayors’ council. “A month ago it was number 10. Now it is number 1.”
 Coun. Bill Harper noted that the city’s report analyzes how the six options still being contemplated meet nine regional objectives including travel, environment, livability, economic development and cost.
“We meet seven of them on a four-lane bridge,” he said. “Surrey meets two of them with a six-lane bridge.”

With files from the Surrey NOW