Municipal politicians see the future of the Pattullo Bridge differently depending on which side of the Fraser River they’re standing on.
From Surrey, Coun. Marvin Hunt says a bigger replacement for the four-lane span that links his city and New Westminster makes sense.
“We’ve been through all this before,” Hunt told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “And all of the other options were quite expensive, and the one that was the best option was replacing the Pattullo with another bridge just immediately upstream, where Surrey is wanting it to be six lanes, so that traffic can flow.”
For New Westminster councillor Lorrie Williams, a new Surrey-Coquitlam crossing may work better.
What’s best, according to Williams, is to first create a master plan that covers the Pattullo, the Port Mann Bridge connecting Coquitlam and Surrey, the Alex Fraser Bridge connecting New Westminster and Richmond with Delta, and the Bailey bridge over the Brunette River connecting New Westminster and Coquitlam.
“The Pattullo Bridge is not one entity that you can deal with and say, ‘Here, that’s solved,’ ” Williams told the Straight by phone. “It’s like stepping on a balloon—it pops somewhere else.”
With a new round of public consultations on alternatives to the Pattullo happening through June 28, taking a broader look at the region’s transportation issues is an idea that Gordon Price, director of SFU’s City Program, wants to promote.
For Price, a former Vancouver councillor and a member of the first board of the regional transportation body TransLink, there are important policy questions that need to be settled first.
The first is about road tolls. During the campaign for the May 14 election, B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark announced as part of her platform that Metro Vancouver residents would vote in a referendum next year on new funding sources for public transportation.
According to the SFU academic, current revenue streams for TransLink cannot pay for a new bridge. “You don’t get anything in transportation for half a billion dollars,” Price said in a phone interview with the Straight. “You got to get a nice, big, round number: one, one-and-a-half billion [dollars]. And that’s certainly what this bridge is going into.”
Then there’s the matter of changing patterns in car use. Price noted that there’s been a dramatic decline in what’s called vehicle miles travelled in the U.S. as well as in parts of Canada, particularly in Vancouver, where there are good transit alternatives.
“We’re down to 1965 levels of traffic coming in and out of Vancouver,” Price pointed out. “Now that’s not an analogy for the Pattullo. But given that we’ve got a lot of new infrastructure coming on-stream, that’s going to have an impact on traffic patterns. We are seeing some changes certainly in young people’s attitudes towards driving.”
Options mentioned by Hunt and Williams are among the 25 alternatives laid out in a discussion guide released on June 3. The document was prepared by a joint review team composed of staff from TransLink and the cities of Surrey and New Westminster.
“One of the things that we heard from the public was that they want to see everything,” TransLink spokesperson Derek Zabel told the Straight by phone about the outcome of a public consultation last year.
Out of the 25 choices, the review team is recommending six options for further consideration. All six require tolls.
These include a new six-lane bridge close to the current Pattullo location. It could cost up to $1.1 billion. Also among the recommended options is a new four-lane Surrey-Coquitlam crossing in combination with a rehabilitated Pattullo Bridge of two to three lanes. This has a price tag of $1.5 billion.
The discussion guide also includes the option of decommissioning the bridge without any replacement, estimated at no more than $70 million. The document likewise mentions another choice that involves converting the span for exclusive use by pedestrians and cyclists. This would cost up to $330 million.
However, neither of these is being recommended for consideration by the review team because they will not generate revenues.
According to the discussion guide, the 76-year-old Pattullo Bridge may not be able to withstand a moderate earthquake or a ship collision. About 73,000 vehicles pass over it each weekday; 10 percent of these are trucks. The bridge also doesn’t meet current roadway guidelines. There have been a number of fatal collisions on the span.
The City of Vancouver hasn’t taken a position regarding the Pattullo. But Coun. Geoff Meggs agrees that it’s a good idea to take a comprehensive look at transportation links, including the privately owned New Westminster rail bridge over the Fraser River near the Pattullo. The rail crossing carries cargo and passenger traffic.
“The goods movement is just as important as the commuter movement for the future of the region,” Meggs told the Straight by phone. “But we often look at them separately.”
The first of six open houses on alternatives to the Pattullo Bridge will be held on Thursday (June 6) at New Westminster’s Sapperton Pensioners Hall (318 Keary Street). The three-hour event starts at 5 p.m.