Lively debate on Pattullo’s future

Public open houses in New Westminster about the future of the Pattullo Bridge were jammed last week and discussions were lively.

The final open house on the Pattullo Bridge put on by TransLink and the cities of New Westminster and Surrey will be held Saturday

Public open houses about the future of the Pattullo Bridge were jammed last week and discussions were lively.

And for some New West residents, there is ‘cautious optimism’ that a solution that meets local needs will be found.

TransLink and the cities of New Westminster and Surrey have gone to the public to seek comment on 25 potential options for dealing with the aging 75-year-old structure.

Small group sessions and public open houses have been held, and there will be a final one at the Inn at the Quay on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Many people say it’s a much better process than a year ago when TransLink presented a series of variations on replacing the narrow four-lane Pattullo with a six-lane structure. This time, while six of the 25 options have been recommended by a committee of the three entities for further consideration, the others were also put out for discussion. All 25 were evaluated based on eight objectives the cities and TransLink agreed upon for determining the eventual choice.

“It is going very well. What I’m hearing from the residents is they are pleased with the process and there appeared to be more dialogue about more than the one option,” said Coun. Jonathan Coté, co-chair of New Westminster’s Master Transportation Plan committee. “I’m hopeful if the process stays honest to the eight criteria listed as being part of the decision-making process that I’m cautiously optimistic it will reflect the concerns New Westminster has been raising.”

New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP) spokesman Patrick Johnstone said TransLink should be thanked for going back to the drawing board.

“It’s much better than the first consultation,” he said. “So far so good, I have cautious optimism. I really think they’ve listened.”

Johnstone called for the final result not to increase traffic in New Westminster. But he also pointed out that although residents may want to find a magic solution that decreases traffic, the process is about dealing with the Pattullo’s structural problems and not about reducing the city’s traffic burden.

Reena Meijer-Drees, a NWEP past president, said while it’s clear TransLink is listening—“That’s a good thing”—it is missing one big goal which is to evaluate solutions for either holding the line or reducing the traffic. That objective, she said, “is buried in there with weasel words like livability. Any bridge option that doesn’t do that doesn’t fulfil the needs of our city.”

She said even a four-lane replacement of the Pattullo Bridge would add traffic to New Westminster because the lanes would be wider and more attractive to drivers.

One option that was recommended for further consideration was a connection between Surrey and Coquitlam with a three- or four-lane rehabilitation of the Pattullo. At nearly $1.5 billion that would be too expensive, said Meijer-Drees, especially since there are already bridges such as the Port Mann that already provide that connection.

James Crosty, past-president of the Quayside Community Board, noted combining a refurbished Pattullo with a Surrey-Coquitlam crossing and a Tree Island crossing (between Burnaby and Queensborough) would result in three crossings that could be tolled at a preliminary estimated cost of less than $2.5 billion.

“Then you’ve got a future that will last longer than what you’re projecting at 40 to 50 years,” said Crosty. “I was very pleased to see the options were all on the table, the number of people that were there and the comments that were made.”

Despite all the cautious optimism, Coun. Chuck Puchmayr was disappointed the options did not include a direct connection between the tolled Port Mann Bridge and the partially opened South Fraser Perimeter Road. Without it, he said, a large incentive for truck drivers to avoid the Port Mann tolls and get to Coquitlam and beyond via the Pattullo and New Westminster will remain.

“Without addressing that connection flaw, you’re not going to alleviate anything. Even refurbishing the Pattullo Bridge you’re going to have a huge amount of trucks coming from Surrey and Delta,” said Puchmayr. “At the end of the day this is a decision [New Westminster] won’t be making, it will be TransLink. How much of that is upfront and how much is a really credible option?”

Coté agreed with Puchmayr that a SFPR-Port Mann connection is a big piece of the puzzle that is missing, but understands why it isn’t part of this process.

“One of the problems TransLink has is that it wouldn’t be a TransLink project it would be a Ministry of Transportation project, and although [TransLink] might support it, it isn’t something they can do anything about,” said Coté. “They can’t put [the Pattullo Bridge] on hold and wait for an answer or no answer [on SFPR].”

TransLink declined to comment on how the consultations were going until after they have been completed.

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