The Pattullo Bridge is due for replacement – perhaps the best word is overdue.
However, New Westminster residents are resisting the idea, with a significant number suggesting that the bridge should simply be closed (perhaps remaining as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge) and not be replaced.
New Westminster has a distinct identity and residents there have been frustrated for years with the huge volumes of traffic heading through their city to go somewhere else. This frustration is understandable. But are they being too insular?
For starters, New Westminster has done little to actually improve traffic flow. For example, there are no left turn lanes on busy roads like 10th Avenue. The city has for years held up building a proper bridge over the Brunette River to better link to Coquitlam. This traffic is going through an industrial area – what’s the problem?
Perhaps the point they raise needs to be looked at more thoroughly. Could New Westminster and Surrey do without a direct traffic link? In years past, New Westminster businesses would have lobbied hard for a bridge, but they seem to have given up hope of luring Surrey residents to shop in their city.
If Surrey residents had a much-improved transit system, could they get by without a direct road link? They couldn’t do so today, because transit service in Surrey is poor. There are still no firm plans to offer transit over the new Port Mann Bridge, there is no transit service over the Pattullo and even service over the Alex Fraser is minimal.
The plans for the new Pattullo Bridge call for approaches on the New Westminster side which are quite similar to the current approaches. They would funnel most traffic onto McBride Boulevard, Columbia Street and Royal Avenue. However, the new bridge is projected to be six lanes, and all of those roads are already busy four-lane roads. They couldn’t handle additional traffic, and would be hopelessly backed up.
The new Pattullo is proposed to be a toll bridge. If the tolling policy stays the same as it is today, that means the only three toll bridges in the Lower Mainland will be across the Fraser River, with two touching down in Surrey and the third just east of the Surrey-Langley border.
Not only is that unfair, it is likely to depress traffic levels, especially if there is better transit available.
Perhaps the whole project needs to be delved into more deeply. Do Surrey residents want a direct road link to New Westminster, seeing as New Westminster doesn’t want their business and isn’t ready to upgrade its road system?
Should a new Pattullo Bridge be four lanes, to better fit in with New Westminster streets? Or would the best use of the money to be spent on the Pattullo be a complete upgrade of the transit system south of the Fraser? With that amount of money, there could be some major upgrades which just might make a new Pattullo unnecessary.
If the transit system south of the Fraser was to be significantly upgraded to the point that fewer Surrey residents would need cars, that could go a long ways towards changing travel patterns and habits. Whether that would be enough to eliminate the need for a new Pattullo isn’t clear, but the idea may be worth thinking about.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langely Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.