Historic Pattullo Bridge Can’t Get No Respect


It’s late into the evening and I’m just digesting a lot of what was discussed at the Pattullo Bridge Community Forum co-hosted by fellow New Westminster resident Keith Mackenzie and myself. We hadn’t really set any grand expectations regarding media coverage or attendance at the event, but were pleasantly surprised on both fronts.

Over 100 residents from New Westminster, Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, and West Vancouver took a couple of hours out of their busy schedules to listen to our guest speakers. The Forum also garnered extensive media coverage from almost every major outlet. We’re still working on the Vancouver Sun and CBC to see if we can get them excited on this topic too!

Pattullo vs Lion’s Gate

A number of folks were skeptical heading into the forum last evening. They thought that because the focus of the discussion was around saving the bridge and repurposing it for the next 75 years…that somehow Keith and I were resigned to the fact a new six lane bridge is a fait accompli. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I happen to oppose the construction of a new six lane bridge for many reasons. Probably the most notable is the fact we just spent billions to build the Port Mann II (which includes 10 lanes of traffic). Therefore, I think we should take a hard look before we throw even more money at further expanding the road network to accommodate even more cars and trucks.

Unlike the City of New Westminster and TransLink, who both seem to think the bridge is past its prime and needs to be demolished, I think we should be discussing alternatives. Regardless of what those alternatives end up being, they certainly won’t cost anywhere near the $1B price tag slated for a six lane Fraser River connector.

While I enjoyed the presentations, the best part of the evening for me was the question and answer session with local residents. One fellow stood up and made what I thought was the most salient comment of the evening.

He pointed out that when it came time to decide the fate of the historic Lion’s Gate Bridge, almost nobody advocated tearing it down. Doing so would have been nothing short of heresy and political suicide.

The government decided to invest hundreds of millions to restore the three lane bridge in order that it could get another lease on life. Looking back, most people now agree that was the right decision.

So why is it that almost everyone is now saying the historic Pattullo Bridge (named after a former BC Premier) is not worthy of restoring or repurposing? For Heaven’s sakes, even the City of New Westminster seems less than enthusiastic about keeping the current bridge.

That’s why this citizen’s comment was so right on the mark. An old bridge connecting Vancouver, West and North Vancouver is considered a provincial treasure…while the historic Pattullo connecting North Surrey and New Westminster is considered junk. A double standard or simply good policy making?

I’ll admit I was a bit frustrated with the content of the presentations from our speakers this evening. Rather than talking about the Pattullo as an historic bridge worth saving, they spent more time talking about peak oil and rehashing the Port Mann II debate.

I suspect TransLink (they were invited but declined to attend) must be rubbing their hands in glee. As they continue with their $100M planning exercise to replace the Pattullo, they can only pray that nobody makes an effort to keep it.

While I appreciate the broader discussion on peak oil, Port Mann II, benefits of rail transit etc…I think it distracts from the main issue of keeping the bridge intact. If the community can rally around a single issue like saving the Pattullo, I believe a lot of the concerns regarding a new six lane bridge will sort themselves out.

The biggest challenge around saving the Pattullo is the fact that so many New Westminster residents see it as the bane of their existence. It is the major source of pollution, traffic and in local neighbourhoods. However, tearing it down might have the unintended consequence of even more traffic and pollution.

I want to extend a big thanks to all of the guest speakers and concerned residents who attended the forum – as well as the media that covered it. I’ll have more to report on this in the next week or so regarding where Keith and I want to take it from here. We have some very exciting news that we’ll be sharing with all of you soon. Stay tuned.