In January 2009 a fire beneath the rusty Pattullo Bridge forced it to temporarily shut down. Soon there were predictions that the closure would trigger traffic gridlock and chaos on the streets. As it turned out, those grim warnings were unfounded.
What the closure did do was give the citizens of New Westminster a brief glimpse of what life would be like without a Fraser River crossing. As a local resident myself, I can describe those eight days as nothing short of glorious.
That’s because the estimated 450,000 vehicles travelling through the Royal City on a daily basis was dramatically reduced. Residential side streets regularly used by commuters to shorten their journeys were suddenly almost car free.
Fast forward to 2012 and TransLink is in the middle of consulting local residents and businesses regarding the future of the Pattullo Bridge. At 75 years old, this piece of infrastructure clearly requires some serious attention.
But what should we do next? Transit officials want you to believe the only option available is to build a much larger six-lane bridge. And, given the state of our public finances, you can anticipate a hefty toll will be used to finance it.
According to TransLink, a new tolled Pattullo Bridge will support the increase of daily commuter traffic from 60,300 trips in 2012 to 94,000 by 2040. Meanwhile, the total number of big rigs making the crossing will jump from 3,500 to 7,500 during this same period.
After I recently attended a so-called public consultation on this project, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. Rather than putting forward all of the options on the table, TransLink chose to limit the scope of discussion. In fact, they even published online a resource document titled “options considered but not pursued.”
What isn’t being pursued is the option of moving the bridge out of New Westminster altogether. Nor is there any discussion of converting it to a more community-oriented two-lane road serving local needs. As for the radical idea of replacing the current four-lane Pattullo with another four-lane span – well, you can forget it.
With a new tolled ten-lane Port Mann bridge about to open up later this year, one thing is for sure. The issue of tolls, traffic and transportation will heat up even more in the months to come. As for whether you’ll see street hockey being played on McBride Boulevard anytime soon, I wouldn’t count on it.