Open Letter to Translink regarding the Pattullo Bridge Replacement

TransLink Board of Directors

Cc: New Westminster Mayor and Council
Dawn Black, MLA New Westminster

Dear Ms. Olewiler, and Members of the Board.

The NWEP are writing in the context of the current discussions around the future of the Pattullo Bridge. We understand that this transportation corridor is the responsibility of TransLink, and recognize the challenges faced by TransLink in making a decision to upgrade or replace the aging facility. However there two aspects of the current discussion that raise concern for the NWEP as the project proceeds. These concerns, if not addressed, may lead to serious consequences that impact the liveability of our community. At the same time, they speak to how TransLink may reach the laudable goals outlined in the Transport 2040 strategy document.


The first consideration is the lane count of the proposed replacement bridge. Although both 4-lane and 6-lane facilities are being evaluated, the NWEP are concerned that a 6- lane structure is being considered at all. During the recent UBE workshops, hosted by TransLink, we learned that New Westminster cannot handle more traffic. Road space in the City is limited and congested, and our neighbourhoods are inundated with rat runners. We learned that building new road facilities that open the door to more vehicles would increase this flood into the City, while not improving the overall circulation of traffic. It was clearly stated that TransLink currently lacks the funds to expand the road network within New Westminster in a meaningful way, which in any case would conflict with the City of New Westminster’s’ own transportation policy and objectives.

It is also not clear that the business case for the extra expense of a 6-lane bridge exists, based on the current regional transportation situation, and the future plans of New Westminster and the Region. The new 6-lane Golden Ears Bridge is well below its expected traffic levels despite taxpayer-funded incentives to encourage more trips through reduced tolls. River-crossing capacity will soon increase markedly with the opening of the nearby 10-lane Port Mann bridge (a facility not expected to reach capacity for the foreseeable future), despite Provincial greenhouse gas reduction targets that will require steeply reduced emissions (including transport emissions), in coming years. Finally, both TransLink’s Transport 2040 Strategy and the City of New Westminster’s Master Transportation Plan strongly support a “mode shift” away from supporting the use of automobiles towards encouraging transit, cycling, and walking as sustainable transportation options.

While this latter goal may seem idealistic in many areas of the Lower Mainland, there is no question of its achievability in the vicinity of the Pattullo Bridge, thanks to the existing presence of the SkyBridge, the rail bridge, and the potential for expansion of river traffic. New Westminster is already the community with the second-highest “alternative mode share” in the Lower Mainland: it has become one of the nodes from which regional mode shift is growing, thanks to many progressive projects initiated by TransLink, the City of New Westminster and other levels of government. With Surrey building a dense, transit- cycling- and pedestrian-friendly City Centre on the south side of the Pattullo bridge, now is the time to provide vital support for this mode shift. Expanding the number of road lanes connecting these two mode-shift nodes across the Fraser River is a step in the wrong direction, and is counter to TransLink’s longer term goal of reducing our region’s dependence on single-occupancy vehicles.

Our second concern is the apparent reversal in TransLink’s position on tolling this facility. It has been suggested that this change has come as a result of a misguided Provincial policy that states there must always be a “free alternative” to a tolled facility (in this case, the new Port Mann bridge). Although tolls are perceived by some as regressive, they are recognized as a valuable tool in managing traffic demand, particularly when there are alternative transportation choices available in this corridor (SkyTrain). If tolls are not to be applied to this facility, it will inevitably become the preferred direct crossing of the Fraser River west of Mission and it will be continually congested. It has been demonstrated that drivers avoid the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, even accepting the significant time and distance cost to use the Port Mann “free” alternative. An toll-free Pattullo structure (4- or 6-lanes) would subject the adjacent communities to significant increases in traffic and congestion. This would be a disaster for liveability in New Westminster, and would defeat TransLink’s goal to provide reliable goods movement through the corridor. It seems to us that the first priority of TransLink should be to be to plan for effective Transportation Demand Management in the Pattullo corridor in order to retain a balance of vehicle movement in the region regardless of what is done to the existing structure.

While we recognize the need to do something with the aging Pattullo Bridge structure, it is critical that TransLink acknowledge the fine balance existing in the current traffic distribution, the effect of policies and external factors such as tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, and the impact that bridge capacity can have on an over-subscribed road system. These factors should also be considered through the lens of the TransLink 2040 plan and the need to spend limited resources in ways which move us in great strides towards the goals of this plan and not simply towards maintaining the status quo. New Westminster is already a City leading the way toward meeting TransLink’s 2040 goals thanks to very generous investments by TransLink and senior governments in sustainable modes of transportation, careful land use planning by the City of New Westminster, and the historic reality of a well-established community with very real geographic constraints.

We would like to suggest that TransLink invest in infrastructure that expands the “mode shift” success seen in New Westminster to other communities, not in infrastructure that burdens New Westminster with the negative impacts of communities with less successful transportation planning.

Sincerely.
Reena Meijer Drees,
President,
The New Westminster Environmental Partners.

 

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