Opinion: Group demands 6 lanes for Pattullo. That’s nonsense

Chris Campbell

Plans have been in place for a long time for the $1.377-billion Pattullo Bridge replacement.

It will continue to be four lanes connecting New Westminster and Surrey. The new bridge will feature dedicated pedestrian and cyclist lanes separated from traffic by a barrier on both sides of the bridge. It is expected to open in 2023.

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But that isn’t good enough for the Surrey Board of Trade, which has issued yet another plea to make the new bridge six lanes.

“Now that the BC Government has selected a partnership of construction companies, Acciona and Aecon, to build the replacement for the aging Pattullo Bridge between Surrey and New Westminster, the Surrey Board of Trade is continuing their urgent ask to the BC Government to reconsider building a 4-lane Pattullo Bridge and build a 6-lane bridge to prepare for future population growth,” reads a news release.

Nonsense.

I say nonsense for two main reasons. One is it’s ludicrous to expect that after all of the planning that’s gone into the project – and the costs accrued – the government should just rip up the plans and start over. It’s nonsense to expect the bidding process to start again from scratch – delaying the project for an even longer period of time. A six-lane bridge would be even more expensive than the current project.

The second bit of nonsense is the Surrey Board of Trade’s lack of understanding of how traffic planning works. If you listen to traffic-planning experts, adding two more lanes would not improve congestion – it could actually make things worse.

Pattullo Bridge
New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy speaks at a February announcement at Westminster Pier Park regarding the province's decision to build a replacement for the Pattullo Bridge. From left, Richard Walton, vice-chair of the mayors' council, Premier John Horgan and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena were among the officials on hand for the announcement. - NOW files

There’s a thing called “induced demand” (you can read more about it here) and, according to the respected urban planning website CityLab, it says that “adding new roadway capacity also creates new demand for those lanes or roads, maintaining a similar rate of congestion, if not worsening it.” If you add more of something, you’ll get more people using it. Just look at Seattle. They have freeways with lots of lanes and every single one of those lanes clogs up.

And even if you did offer three lanes coming from Surrey to New West, that extra lane still has to disappear on the north side of the bridge because the local road only has two lanes. It will create a chokepoint that will only back up traffic.

The Pattullo needs replacing because it’s old and falling apart. It’s also always been dangerous due to the way it was designed.

Replacing the Pattullo is about offering a safer, streamlined bridge. It should improve flows, but it’s not some sort of magical solution to congestion – more roads never are a magic bullet. You could build eight lanes and it wouldn’t fix things.

Investing in more transit and moving jobs south of the Fraser are two far better ways to cut down on congestion.

The Surrey Board of Trade needs to stop all of this nonsense and just accept what’s coming.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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