COLUMN: A bridge in deadlock

A split between two cities means there may be a stand-off in the decision over the future of the Pattullo Bridge.

The Pattullo Bridge may be with us a lot longer, given the split over what would be the best option for replacing it.

While a majority of Surrey residents polled support replacing it with a six-lane bridge at the same location, most New Westminster residents want a new bridge built between Surrey and Coquitlam. The split between the two cities almost ensures that there will be a deadlock when it finally comes to making a decision.

All of this assumes that TransLink, the owner of the current bridge, would have enough money to replace it. While it has been suggested that a new bridge will be paid for by tolls, that has met strong resistance from Surrey residents, given that there are already two toll bridges from Surrey and Langley across the river – and no other toll bridges anywhere in the province.

A Surrey-Coquitlam bridge, which would come down somewhere near the Coquitlam-New Westminster border, would take away the problems caused by traffic gridlock in New Westminster. However, it would likely shift those problems to Coquitlam streets. It also would mean there would be a need for major changes to Highway 1 exits and entrances – which are undergoing final touches, as the Highway 1 improvement project wraps up.

The TransLink report acknowledges the problems caused by trucks on the Pattullo Bridge. Many drivers use both lanes while crossing the narrow bridge, slowing down all other traffic. The bridge is not built for the long and heavy loads hauled by truck today, and it would be best to keep trucks off the bridge entirely. But there are trucking-related businesses on both sides of the bridge and no easy alternate routes. When the South Fraser perimeter road is complete, it should make it easier for trucks to cross the Alex Fraser Bridge, which is much more suited to handle large trucks.

While New Westminster residents’ reluctance to see additional traffic through their city is understandable, their city is at least partially to blame. Major roads such as 10th Avenue have no left turn lanes – thus causing traffic to back up at busy periods when one driver decides to make a left turn.

New Westminster has done little to actually facilitate traffic moving through, and that means that gridlock lasts much longer than it has to.

It’s important to note that New Westminster wanted the Pattullo Bridge built in that location in the 1930s. It wanted to capture a lot of business from Surrey and other Fraser Valley communities. Now it wants nothing to do with Surrey residents, and would prefer that they stay out of the city entirely. While many people who commute on that bridge would love to grant the city its wish, it isn’t practical, given the many destinations drivers are trying to get to each day.

One other point in the TransLink report sparked my curiosity. It suggested that the Pattullo Bridge could collapse in a major earthquake, or if struck by a ship.

Has seismic upgrade work that we taxpayers have paid for been so poorly done that the bridge would collapse in an earthquake?

As for ships striking the bridge, there are few large ships that go under the bridge. There are many barges, tugs and smaller craft, and there have been several incidents over the years. But the alarmist rhetoric about the bridge falling down is over the top.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

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