COLUMN: No real alternatives

Other than the Pattullo Bridge, which is now undergoing repairs, The Alex Fraser is the only free crossing over the Fraser River.

The spring and summer repair work on the Pattullo Bridge has exposed the complete inadequacies of transportation networks between the fast-growing south of the Fraser area and the rest of Metro Vancouver.

Pattullo Bridge traffic is clogged for most of the day every day, as it is now down to one lane in each direction so that patchwork repairs can be made. It is important to note that these repairs are only expected to extend the life of the bridge by a few years, as the longterm plan is to replace it with a new toll bridge.

The Alex Fraser Bridge, Highway 91 and all the feeder routes are even more clogged than ever since the Pattullo repairs began on April 29. Other than the Pattullo, it is the only free bridge across the Fraser River. The Alex Fraser traffic has been building significantly since the tolled Port Mann Bridge opened.

Interestingly, the Port Mann Bridge has been noticeably busier since the Pattullo work began. This makes sense – it does have the ability to move traffic quickly. However, there is no toll discount being offered to drivers during this period (even though the Pattullo is the supposed free alternative). The fact is, the toll is a steep price for working people to pay to get to and from work.

While traffic is generally flowing well on the Port Mann during rush hours, even with more drivers using it, there have been a lot of slowdowns on Highway 1 on both sides of the bridge, from Abbotsford to Vancouver.

The George Massey tunnel is more clogged with traffic as well, although sometimes it is hard to notice, given its perpetual state of busyness. The level of traffic there has prompted Premier Christy Clark to declare that the tunnel needs to be replaced with (yet another) toll bridge, something that has proven to be quite controversial.

If that bridge is built, it will relieve some of the pressure. However, if it opens at about the same time as the tolled Pattullo, there will be four toll bridges crossing the Fraser, with only the Alex Fraser free. It is obvious where much of the traffic will go.

Clark recognizes that there is already a built-in unfairness in tolling policy, and has commented on that fact. A number of mayors and MLAs have also called for a fairer tolling policy, with more bridges tolled at a lower rate. Mayors would like some of that additional revenue to go to transit projects.

Clark’s party is busy formulating its election promises for next May’s provincial election, and a fair tolling policy is a pretty high priority for most South Fraser residents. The eight seats in Surrey and two in Delta are pretty important factors ion which party gets to form government in Victoria. If there is no action on the tolling policy front, the B.C. Liberals will lose votes in the South Fraser area.

The NDP will also need to address the tolling inequity. Thus far, there has been no formal policy shift announced by the opposition party.

Transportation is about more than cars and trucks of course. Transit is a key part of the equation, but unfortunately it gets little attention from decision-makers. The Surrey LRT lines may get built in the next decade, if enough local funding can be found to match federal and provincial funds. However, it will do little to get more people across the river.

The LRT system will require riders to transfer to SkyTrain, and that delay alone will make transit less competitive.

Meanwhile, the bus service in Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley is a fraction of what is available to people in Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore. Coquitlam and Port Moody residents will still have more access to SkyTrain when the Evergreen Line opens.

In Surrey, bus routes such as the 502 and 321 are hopelessly overcrowded. No wonder that most Surrey residents rely on their cars for transportation. They have few real alternatives. The added pressure caused by Pattullo repairs has proven that.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.


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