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New Westminster wants businesses' input on Pattullo Bridge

New Westminster city council wants to get input from local businesses about the Pattullo Bridge replacement project.

New Westminster city council wants to get input from local businesses about the Pattullo Bridge replacement project.

The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce and the Surrey Board of Trade recently joined forces to hold a meeting about the Pattullo Bridge and the need for a comprehensive transportation strategy to support future growth. The May 24 event featured a panel discussion including representatives of the cities of New Westminster and Surrey, and TransLink.

After attending the two-hour dialogue, Coun. Chuck Puchmayr felt the city needed to engage the local business community in a discussion about the Pattullo Bridge. He'd like to know what businesses think about TransLink's proposal to build a six-lane replacement bridge from New Westminster to Surrey.

"Jim Lowrie was really the only one there feeding the interests of the city," he said about New Westminster's engineering director. "I thought the chamber would have a New Westminster representation on it, putting a lens on it, reflecting New Westminster's interests."

A business representative who was on the panel seemed supportive of the six-lane bridge and North Fraser Perimeter Road, which left Puchmayr wondering whether that was something supported by New Westminster businesses.

"When it's rush-hour gridlock, cars are literally not moving," he said. "You may as well close your store. Local people are not going to get up and go shopping. You have to look at that."

TransLink is currently proposing to build a new six-lane Pattullo Bridge near the existing bridge alignment. The City of New Westminster has sought input about a wide range of options as part of consultation taking place through its master transportation planning process.

Coun. Bill Harper agrees that it is "really valuable" to get input from local businesses, as he didn't feel he got a true representation of their thoughts at the May 24 event. Coun. Betty McIntosh said the Surrey Board of Trade seemed to have some "very strong and fixed opinions" on the need for a new six-lane bridge.

"It's important that we hear from them but that they also hear our concerns as well," said Coun. Jonathan Cote.

On Monday, council supported Puchmayr's motion to engage local businesses in a dialogue about the Pattullo Bridge.

Bart Slotman, vice president of the Uptown Property Group that owns Westminster Centre and other uptown properties, was among the local business representatives who attended the May 24 dialogue.

"A lot of business people in the region are pushing for increased capacity. Surrey is definitely pushing for more capacity," he said. "If you look at New Westminster, I think we are already overwhelmed with traffic."

Slotman said statistics indicate that 70 per cent of the traffic using the Pattullo Bridge isn't coming from or going to New Westminster.

"From a business perspective, we need to remain connected," he said. "Just to get rid of the bridge is very ideological - I can see why it would be attractive to some people."

Instead of eliminating the crossing altogether, Slotman would like to see commuter traffic redirected to more appropriate routes such as the freeway or the Alex Fraser Bridge, or construction of a new crossing at a better location.

With TransLink estimating the cost of building a new six-lane Pattullo Bridge estimated to cost $1 billion, Slotman believes it would be wiser to spend $200,000 to upgrade the existing Pattullo Bridge for local traffic and cyclists and pedestrians, and spend $800,000 on a crossing in a more suitable location for commuters.

"Building more capacity is not going to be more beneficial to New Westminster," Slotman said. "We should use that money and reroute the traffic."

Slotman said he'd like to see commuter traffic redirected to the most appropriate locations so customers are able to drive to local businesses during rush hour.

"The biggest thing is to create an opportunity for commuter traffic to bypass New Westminster," said Slotman, a member of the Uptown Business Association. "It does not want to go to New Westminster."

Slotman noted that one of the speakers at the forum asked people to imagine there was a clean slate and no bridge crossed from Surrey to New Westminster, and then consider if this would be the location selected to build a bridge at this time.

"The answer is absolutely not. So why would we do it now?" Slotman said.