New Westminster went on the offensive to get its position on the Pattullo Bridge known.
The city called a press conference Wednesday morning when Mayor Wayne Wright, facing a phalanx of television cameras, microphones and reporters squished into City Hall’s council chambers declared replacing the Pattullo with a new four-lane, tolled crossing is the best solution.
He also said the province’s offer to pony up $350 million to replace the 76-year-old structure would be better used for other transportation projects such as rapid transit for Surrey.
The replacement, he said, should be financed by tolls. Implementing them would also help to keep New Westminster traffic at manageable levels while also encouraging alternatives such as transit, cycling and walking.
“Surrey’s mayor (Dianne Watts) has said tolls should be as low as possible for as long as possible, and I would be in favour of that,” said Wright, who added traffic should be using the Port Mann because it’s faster, safer and quicker.
Wright noted although the population of Greater Vancouver, and particularly Surrey, has grown significantly since the 1990s, traffic volume on the Pattullo had been steadily declining. But the tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge changed everything, said Wright, with the bridge averaging 8,000 more daily vehicle crossings compared than there were prior to the tolls.
A five- or six-lane replacement or a solution without tolls would only increase traffic congestion in New Westminster, said the mayor.
“There is a need to respect New Westminster’s established urban and historic context in the design of any new facilities,” said Wright. “Freeway-style on- and off-ramps are not an option in New Westminster’s highly urbanized context. It would be impossible. We have no room without restructuring neighbourhoods and streets.”
New Westminster also wants the province to find a way to connect the South Fraser Perimeter Road directly to the Port Mann Bridge instead of forcing traffic destined for Burnaby, Vancouver or Coquitlam to go 21 kilometres out its way to the 176 Street interchange to connect to Highway 1 and the Port Mann.
Having a South Fraser Perimeter Road direct link to the Port Mann would “promote regional truck traffic traveling where investments have already been made,” said Wright.
The mayor also said although TransLink has eliminated the option of a new bridge connecting North Surrey to Coquitlam’s United Boulevard industrial area combined with rehabilitating the Pattullo into a two or three-lane bridge, it is still an idea “worthy of consideration.”
Although Surrey city council favours a six-lane replacement, it doesn’t make sense according to New West Coun. Jonathan Coté, especially if it was tolled. He said studies indicate a levy would decrease daily traffic on the Pattullo from 75,000 to less than 50,000.
“What’s most interesting is the traffic model shows the volume would go down 30 per cent if it was tolled, which really leads to the question why would you spend [extra money] building an expanded bridge when the money would be better allocated to other [transportation projects],” said Coté. “It would be a waste of transportation resources.
Too frequently, said Coté, the province and Surrey have looked at expanding the road network to solve traffic problems. “It’s an old way of looking at transportation.” He added it doesn’t serve the region well and it’s wasting millions and millions of dollars that should be spent on transit and other types of transportation infrastructure.
“The fact we’ve been the toll-free alternative [to the Port Mann] has been highly detrimental to the community,” said Coté.
A new four-lane bridge would cost about $850 million while a new six-lane would be priced at $1.2 billion, said Coun. Bill Harper.
“I don’t think Surrey has a good sense of what happens in New Westminster during rush hour. If they did they would be looking more favourable on a four-lane bridge.”
He said New Westminster is beginning to be heard outside of the city’s boundaries. It was because its citizens were up in arms about the consequences of an expanded, new Pattullo Bridge that prompted TransLink to take a look at finding another solution, said Harper.
He would like to see the province needs to dump their free-alternative policy for toll bridges and allow the regional district to do proper road tolling.
Harper still likes exploring the option of a Surrey to Coquitlam crossing pointing out it would be a big advantage to Burnaby because traffic wouldn’t be forced to use Canada Way or Tenth Avenue to get to and from the freeway.