Until recently, the Gateway freeway megaproject looked unstoppable. Work is continuing on the $3-billion Highway 1 widening, which includes the replacement for the Port Mann Bridge, slated to be Canada’s widest bridge. Despite legal action by the Burns Bog Conservation Society, logging for the $2-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway continues in Surrey and Delta.
But the Gateway Program has ground to a halt in New Westminster due to citizen activism combined with the provincial budget squeeze. Two interconnected parts of the Gateway project were planned for New West:
”¢ A six-lane replacement for the four-lane Pattullo Bridge, budgeted at about a billion dollars, was put on hold by Transportation Minister Shirley Bond on February 8. The proposal was that the wider bridge would connect the North and South Fraser Perimeter roads. But resistance to tolling a second bridge to Surrey was strong, and funding the project from provincial sources would be politically risky. Now, Minister Bond has instructed TransLink to look at refurbishing the existing bridge and doing safety upgrades. Some possible safety measures include banning the largest trucks from the route, widening the lanes outside of the ached mid-span section, and installing a narrow safety barrier down the centre line.
”¢ The second, the North Fraser Perimeter Road, is a proposal to put a highway along the Fraser River through downtown New West and connecting to the expanded Highway 1 freeway. No cost estimates or designs have been released for this section, but if New Westminster council’s demand for a tunnel for the waterfront portion was met, the cost could easily exceed $1 billion.
The provincially controlled TransLink was running full speed ahead with the United Boulevard extension, the first phase of the NFPR in New Westminster, in an attempt to meet a tight deadline for federal funds. It would have cost $175 million for a short stub of freeway and an overpass that would feed onto the existing New Westminster street network.
After hundreds of residents showed up at open houses and meetings in December to oppose the project, New Westminster council voted down the proposal to start building the NFPR.
TransLink’s response to New West council was to propose shelving the whole project, unless council backed down. Their response reads: “TransLink will terminate the UBE and NFPR project development work sooner than the three month timeframe if it becomes apparent that no agreeable solution can be found to satisfy the requirements of TransLink and the project stakeholders.” Council bluntly refused to back down, and reminded TransLink “of Council’s previous position on the matter taken on December 13, 2010”.
Local groups are welcoming the re-examination of both these projects. New Westminster Environmental Partners vice president Matthew Laird states: “TransLink’s infrastructure investments must be focused on getting cars off the road to meet their own 2040 goals. TransLink needs to realize they simply can’t afford these projects and they have much higher priorities in the region including completion of the Evergreen Line and the provisioning of drastically improved bus service in Surrey.”
Andrew Murray, a member of the New Westminster chapter of the Council of Canadians, has said: “New Westminster is creating a new Master Transportation Plan this year, in an attempt to reduce our transportation emissions. Now is the time to take action on the climate crisis and create a more livable city by shifting resources to transit, cycling and walking.”
It would be ridiculous to start a billion-dollar highway through downtown New Westminster just as consultations start on the city’s new transportation plan. And the people of New West seem well prepared to prevent such an outcome. Mayor Wayne Wright of New Westminster even referred to the first NFPR open house as a “donnybrook”—slang for a mass brawl.
Politicians who think spending billions on roadway expansions is the easy way to get elected should think again. The resistance to Gateway could well spread. After all, it has happened before when a wave of pro-transit and anti-freeway campaigns swept the continent in the early 1970s. That wave of revolts left a trail of partially completed freeways, such as the Georgia Viaduct in Vancouver, which was originally planned to be four miles long. It also left a trail of broken political careers, such as legendary Vancouver mayor Tom “Terrific” Campbell. Now with global warming at a crisis level, and the age of cheap oil coming to a close, the potential for revolts against blacktop politics is even greater.
Eric Doherty is a member of GatewaySucks.org and the Council of Canadians’ Vancouver-Burnaby chapter.