New Westminster wants to find a way to put the brakes on accelerating traffic gridlock on city streets.
Acting mayor Jonathan Cote recently learned that traffic on the new Port Mann Bridge has decreased 10 to 13 per cent since last year, something likely attributable to the tolls. At the same time, traffic counts have shown increased volume on the Pattullo Bridge.
“The city is aware that something dramatic has happened in the last year,” he said. “It’s no surprise to us it’s what’s happened with the Port Mann Bridge.”
Cote noted that TransLink statistics showed a decline in traffic on the Pattullo Bridge in recent years, but that all changed last year. While traffic on the Pattullo Bridge had decreased by 15 per cent between 1994 and 2011, he said there was a 16 per cent increase in traffic last year.
“What the city needs to do is continue to press on the issue,” he said. “It’s not something that we back down from.”
A recent online poll by Insights West found that 72 per cent of residents who use the Port Mann Bridge once a week or more are opposed to the tolls on the bridge, as do 57 per cent of the people who use the bridge one to three times a month. Tolls are set to increase from $1.50 to $3 in the new year, something Insights West says is leading residents to seek alternatives to avoid the bridge.
“People are continuing to look at different ways to avoid the toll,” said Mario Canseco, vice president of public affairs for Insights West, in a news release. “For 2014, 31 per cent will actively seek new routes, up five points since last year when the toll was $1.50. In addition, one in four residents (23 per cent) say they will drive over the bridge less often, down 10 points since last year.”
According to Canseco, some casual drivers have already chosen other routes such as the Pattullo Bridge in order to save some cash, while half of heavy Port Mann Bridge users are just going to carry on when the toll goes up.
“We have already seen the $1.50 toll have a significant impact,” Cote said. “I can only imagine the impact is going to get worse when the tolls go up to $3 per crossing.”
Earlier this year, the city reported the average daily traffic volume on Royal Avenue has increased by 1,300 vehicles per day (a five per cent increase), and the heavy truck volume has increased by 360 trucks per day (a 63 per cent increase), an increase the city said was partially due to the introduction of tolls on the Port Mann Bridge.
“We already had a challenging situation with traffic congestion in the city. That has only exacerbated the situation,” Cote said. “From the city’s perspective it’s frustrating. Billions of dollars were spent on the Gateway project to help improve transportation in the region, and this project has actually become a bit of a curse in the city.”
Cote said the city should be at a stage to release a draft of the master transportation plan early in 2014, and continue with the public process in the first few months of the year. In addition, the Pattullo Bridge planning process will kick into high gear again in late January or early February.
“At some point we have to recognize our transportation infrastructure from a road point of view is what it is,” Cote said. “There is not room to build new highways in the city. And that’s not the direction the city wants to go. How we connect into the regional transportation system has to take that into account.”
In October, council asked the province to immediately lower tolls for heavy trucks on the Port Mann Bridge to discourage the use of the Pattullo Bridge as a free alternative. Council also asked TransLink to: ban heavy trucks on the Pattullo Bridge, if the Pattullo Bridge continues to experience increased traffic volumes due to the diversionary effects of the Port Mann Bridge; approve an extension of the current heavy truck prohibition on Royal Avenue to 24 hours (other than for local deliveries); and establish regional tolling as a travel demand management measure for the Metro Vancouver area as an immediate priority.