Dialogue deadlock: New West and Surrey still at stalemate over Pattullo Bridge

METRO VANCOUVER — Strong words were exchanged during a sit down between councillors from New Westminster and Surrey regarding the future of the Pattullo Bridge.

New Westminster Coun. Jonathan Cote made the trip across the river to attend Surrey’s transportation and infrastructure committee meeting Monday.

Cote presented his city’s position in support of a new, tolled four-lane structure, while Surrey is still adamantly pushing for six, which are expected to cost roughly $800 million and more than $1 billion, respectively.

The Pattullo being the free alternative has “been a disaster” in terms of road congestion since the Port Mann tolls were rolled out, he stressed.

Cote said he hears from residents that they don’t feel safe on roads they previously did. He added that without significant investment in road creation there’s not much that can be done to the Royal City’s road network.

“We already have over 450,000 vehicles travelling through our city (daily),” he said. And New Westminster reports state the tolling of the Port Mann Bridge has already led to 6,000 more crossings per day.

New Westminster doesn’t see the future demand for a larger Pattullo, Cote said, but rather says increased traffic should be on the Port Mann.

“A lot of this traffic was really intended to be focused on a highway network,” he said of truck traffic on the bridge, and there was some discussion about New Westminster’s idea to ban said traffic on the structure.

He went on to say the city believes a bigger bridge is “not warranted, justified and we think it’s actually a waste of resources at this point in time.”

Cote was met with questions from Surrey about New Westminster’s recently-released position paper – both as to why it was created outside of the discussions with TransLink and Surrey, and why the Royal City embarked on a tour to share it with other municipalities.

To that, Cote said the landscape changed, as the issue became more of a Metro Vancouver and mayors’ council decision.

“It wasn’t about pulling a fast one on the City of Surrey,” Cote noted.

“It was more about trying to develop an understanding of the issue as best we could.”

SIX LANES, NO TOLLS

Surrey Coun. Tom Gill, who chairs the transportation and infrastructure committee, strongly emphasized the city’s position that the bridge should be built with six lanes.

Gill said Surrey would support a phased opening of the increased lanes, until New Westminster was able to handle more traffic.

In response, Cote emphasized the city wouldn’t close the door on designing a structure with the flexibility to be upgraded in the future, but added, “There would be a lot of skepticism from the New Westminster side if you had a bridge where all it would take is a removal of a barrier, and two weeks after opening could be easily switched to a six-lane bridge,” Cote said.

Surrey Coun. Barbara Steele took issue with New Westminster’s idea to toll a new Pattullo.

“It’s not that we would be upset, I think it would be a lot greater than that. We would be almost outraged,” Steele said.

She went on to say the Alex Fraser Bridge, which hasn’t entered into the equation at all, would be the only way in and out of Surrey without having to pay tolls in such a scenario.

“That’s a little bit more than just being upset. That cuts us off from the region.”

Steele said bridges are meant to last more than 35 or 40 years.

“So to neglect putting the capability for six lanes to deal with the growth that’s going to be going on south of the Fraser would be nothing less than negligent. I think we have to recognize that the growth is here,” she said.

But Cote considers it more negligent to spend hundreds of millions of dollars today based on anticipated future road demands.

Cote said New Westminster is open to dialogue, but “the devil will be in the details.”

‘LET’S GOT ON IT’

After New Westminster’s presentation, Surrey’s transportation manager Jaime Boan said costs of a new, six-lane structure were somewhat overstated in New Westminster’s position paper.

Boan said in the paper, the key negative aspect of the six-lane option was the lack of cost effectiveness, but said that was because of New Westminster’s request for a tunnelled new road underneath Royal Avenue across the entire city.

“So that is what put it into the not-cost-effective category,” Boan said.

Boan also said a lot of steps have been taken in the past that have contributed to road congestion in the Royal City.

“The approach New Westminster has been taking over the past number of years is to try to divert the traffic elsewhere. So for example, Royal Avenue two lanes were taken away and that has caused, of course, more congestion of Royal Avenue,” Boan said, adding that some past New Westminster decisions are “partially creating the issues and concerns that are being experienced now.”

After the meeting, Gill said he remains just as frustrated as he was going into it.

Gill worries that if New Westminster “continues to filibuster” that TransLink may not see any other option but to invest $300 million in upgrading the current structure. 

A 2013 report from Metro Vancouver found that the Pattullo Bridge does not have adequate sidewalks or barriers for pedestrians and cyclists, and that the 76-year-old bridge may not survive a moderate earthquake or ship collision.

“Let’s get on it. I’m not quite sure how many more people have to die on that bridge,” Gill said.

areid@thenownewspaper.com