The mayor of New Westminster says it would take a while to feel the effects of a “no” vote in the upcoming transit and transportation plebiscite. In a phone interview with the Straight, Jonathan Cote predicted the consequences would be felt slowly over time as the regional population grows by a million people during the next 25 years.
“If we think of the traditional forms of car ownership that we’ve seen in the past and put all of those 600,000-plus cars into our transportation system, it’s only going to see an increase in congestion across all of the roads,” Cote said.
Cote, who obtained an SFU master’s degree specializing in urban transportation, is firmly on the “yes” side. He pointed out that there are more than 400,000 vehicles a day travelling through New Westminster, which covers only 15.6 square kilometres.
“New Westminster’s road network is already full,” Cote said. “I can’t imagine trying to move another 100,000 vehicles through our road network or any road network in Metro Vancouver.”
He said that if the mayors’ $7.5-billion plan comes to fruition during the next 10 years, 70 percent of Metro Vancouver residents will live within a five-minute walking distance of a SkyTrain or light-rail station or a stop for frequent buses.
“I think that’s going to fundamentally change the way our region looks at transportation and how our region gets around,” he stated.
The mayors’ recommendations include a new tolled four-lane Pattullo Bridge to connect New Westminster to North Surrey.
Cote said he has been advocating for a long time for the region to look at imposing lower tolls but distributing them more evenly across the region. As things stand now, only motorists crossing the Golden Ears Bridge and the Port Mann Bridge must pay for use of the road. Many drivers from south of the Fraser River have switched to using the Pattullo Bridge and Alex Fraser Bridge to avoid tolls. There are also no tolls on the two North Shore bridges, the Oak Street Bridge, the George Massey Tunnel, or three bridges crossing False Creek.
“In New Westminster, we’ve seen some very detrimental impacts since the toll has been put on the Port Mann, as a lot of that traffic that really should be on our highway network has been diverted onto a local road network in New Westminster that can’t handle that type of capacity,” Cote said. “I think we need to start looking at tools, recognizing they are needed to be able to fund major road projects and bridges. But can we do it smarter so we’re actually not causing negative impacts on our transportation system and use them to really reduce congestion and shift people to sustainable forms of transportation?”