We have agreement!
Everyone agrees that the Pattullo Bridge, first opened in 1937, needs a very serious upgrade or needs to be replaced. Everyone agrees that it is going to be expensive. Everyone agrees it is needed now, not in 10 or 15 years. But this is about where the agreement ends.
TransLink’s Board of Directors has given staff the go-ahead to begin preliminary work toward building a new Pattullo Bridge that will be financed by tolls. The Board’s decision follows receipt of a consultant’s report (The Delcan Report) that concluded it was preferable to build an entirely new bridge rather than invest more money in the existing structure as one half of a twinned span.
The decision to finance the bridge through tolls raises questions about the province’s tolling policy. Victoria had designated the Pattullo as the untolled alternative to the tolled and twinned Port Mann Bridge that is to be built by 2013. If the Pattullo, Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges all end up tolled as is now planned, motorists seeking a free crossing might be forced as far south as the Alex Fraser Bridge. (But is this a legitimate concern?)
Enter the politicians.
From the NDP we have Delta North MLA, Guy Gentner, Surrey-Newton MLA, Harry Bains, NDP MLA and transportation opposition critic, Maurine Karagianis all lined up against the introduction of tolls to finance this project. Among a variety of concerns they believe that the introduction of tolls will force many drivers to the Alex Fraser causing even greater congestion.
Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, always sensitive to his critics, pointed out that the $1-billion South Fraser perimeter road that recently received environmental approval will allow drivers to get from the Pattullo to the Alex Fraser in five minutes, drastically cutting down on congestion. He also said not all drivers will be flocking to the Alex Fraser because it is a free alternative. “A modest toll does not act as a big dissuasion for people to make a travel decision. At least that’s what all the traffic studies tell us.”
“When you do the traffic modelling, what you find – and the Port Mann is the best example – is that today when people are spending 4½ hours sitting on a bridge, wasting time, if they have the option of paying a few dollars to get across it a lot faster, people will do that.”
New Westminster City Councillor, Bill Harper is also against the toll. “They are tolling the new Golden Ears Bridge, they’re going to toll the (new) Port Mann and now the new Pattullo,” Harper said. “Most of the bridges going across the Fraser are going to be tolled.”
Harper said high gas prices are already negatively affecting drivers, and he wondered how fair it is to charge tolls for people who have to drive across the bridge when they have no choice.
“Health-care services have been regionalized, so you have people from Surrey coming to Royal Columbian Hospital and people from New Westminster and Burnaby going to Surrey,” Harper explained. “What choice do these people have but to go back and forth on a toll bridge?”
TransLink’s spokesperson, Ken Hardie said that on the subject of tolls TransLink has no other option. “It’s the only way we can pay for it,” Hardie said. “TransLink basically doesn’t have $800 million to build it in our budget. In fact, we are short lots of money.” Therefore the decision has been made and it is that the new Pattullo Bridge will have tolls!
Voice New Westminster Director, Neil Powell, captures the sentiments of a number of New Westminster residents. “All bridges in the lower mainland should be tolled. Look at the original tenets of the Livable Region Strategic Plan.”
1) Protect the green zone
2) Build complete communities
3) Achieve a compact metropolitan region; and
4) Increase transportation choices.
Powell suggests that a greater Vancouver region-wide toll system should be considered. The technology exists to have variable rate tolls at different times of the day across an entire system. Congestion pricing such as this could be an effective tool in getting the most out of the Lower Mainland’s bridge and highway system and it would generate funding for capital expenditures. For example, transit options that are realistic alternatives to driving a car.
So where do you put the new bridge?
The Delcan report suggests TransLink could build the new bridge 50 metres upstream or 50 metres downstream. Making that decision will involve looking at the costs and impacts of each option on the areas on both sides of the river.
Another school of thought advanced by Voice New Westminster Director Patrick O’Connor, would be to include the bridge with the construction of the “Stormont Connector”. The Stormont connector project would join the Pattullo Bridge to Highway 1. The project could be done as a massive cut and cover operation that would put the entire route, from the bridgehead to Highway 1 underground and then restore McBride Blvd to a local surface road with enhanced pedestrian connections between the two sides of McBride. This project has been in discussion for years.
What happened to all of the previous plans for Marine Way in Burnaby? According to the plans that have been on the books for many years, Marine Way traffic was supposed to be served by a Tree Island Bridge which has never been built. The Tree Island Bridge was supposed to route Alex Fraser Bridge traffic away from the Queensborough Bridge and directly onto Marine Way.
The Tree Island Bridge route would also have lined truck traffic up with the Byrne Road connector which would then direct the truck traffic along New Westminster’s northern boundary. This is where the Stormont connector project would have come in. The Tree Island Bridge route was supposed to connect with the Stormont Connector and then directly onto Highway 1.
A truck route like that might even have eliminated the need for a North Fraser Perimeter Road as a way to get from various points west along the Fraser to Highway 1. New West planners have even talked about a tunnel for trucks and rail that would start near New Westminster’s western border and then pop out at our Eastern border near Highway 1. Something like that would cost billions but would eliminate a lot of truck traffic in New Westminster, and lead to a lot less rail infrastructure along our waterfront.
TransLink CEO, Tom Prendergast said the next stages for replacing the Pattullo Bridge will involve making some fundamental decisions, including where the new bridge will go, which road network improvements will be needed and whether a new rail crossing will be integrated into the new structure. As well, he said TransLink will want to ensure that the new bridge will integrate effectively with the road network, so we will want to consider how the North and South Fraser Perimeter Roads will be developed.
TransLink’s spokesperson, Ken Hardie said the transportation authority is aware of the current bottlenecks in New Westminster and how a new and wider bridge will impact the city. He said TransLink would look at how to mitigate the situation once a final decision is made on where to locate the bridge.
It is imperative that everyone who has an interest in the future of New Westminster review a detailed copy of the Delcan Report. An executive summary is available on line. Follow the links below.
The traffic modeling studies need to be reviewed. The impact studies (economic, social and environmental) need to be reviewed. A solid position on the future of this City must be articulated. Once this is done we must get out in front of getting this project moving. 10 years is not a long time but it is an eternity when you consider what we are experiencing today with the traffic.