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No transit, no bridge

By: 
Anna Roik

June 12, 2012

The past few months has seen a series of community meetings and newspaper editorials in New Westminster discussing TransLink’s replacement for the aging Pattullo Bridge connecting New Westminster and Surrey, slated to open in 2018.

The Pattullo Bridge was built in 1937, and is past its 50 year life expectancy. It has a history of accidents, and faces questions about its earthquake safety. There is no doubt the Pattullo needs replacing—the debate is about what should replace it.

A June 6 forum, attended by about 100 residents, was meant to focus on ways to repurpose the old Pattullo Bridge after its replacement. Instead, the speakers made compelling arguments against the proposed 6-lane replacement bridge. They highlighted stable to declining traffic, inefficiency of truck transport of freight, and lack of integrated public transit in the bridge design. The final point is ironic as TransLink, the bridge’s proponent, is the Vancouver region’s public transit authority.

In 1998 the new, provincial government-appointed TransLink board approved a $1 billion deal to replace the 4-lane bridge with a 6-lane one. However, New Westminster’s road system cannot handle the inevitable increase in traffic a larger bridge would create. Thousands more cars and transport trucks would pass through the city each day, traverse pedestrian and school zones and spew exhaust, and diminishing livability.

Many New Westminster residents are beginning to strongly support a 4-lane replacement—even the city’s Transportation Master Plan favours reducing vehicle traffic. But the city council and business community of Surrey continue to argue the only option is the 6-lane bridge to adequately serve the needs of business in Surrey.

With rising fuel costs and awareness of the effects of car use on climate change, more people are now using transit. Or they would do it if transit were more convenient. TransLink always seems to say there is no money to increase transit service south of the Fraser River, yet it has money for expensive road projects.

Of two recently built TransLink projects, the Golden Ears Bridge carries fewer cars than projected, but the Canada Line train is already over capacity.

The new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge—the widest in Canada—recently saw TransLink scrap plans for a promised express bus service. The new 6-lane Pattullo also will not increase bus links from Surrey to any cities north of the river. A third bridge from Surrey also has minimal transit service.

To continue creating communities forced to depend on car use as its primary transportation is irresponsible when we need to be reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Future decisions about the Pattullo Bridge need to instead lead to a sustainable transportation future for the region.

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