All Pattullo, all the time.

I missed my first NWEP meeting in a couple of years to attend the TransLink Pattullo Bridge consultations in Surrey. I stepped back and did not take part in the “consultation” part (TransLink got a page full of notes from me at the New West meetings, let them hear from someone else for a change), I really just wanted to see how the other half lived, and get a sense of what the mood is on the Surrey side of the River.

Exposing my cultural biases, I walked into the meeting assuming that people in Surrey were all for the bridge, and the bigger and more toll-free, the better (which seems to be the position of their Mayor). Instead, I found there was a lot of diversity of opinion in the room. Admittedly, there was more discussion of getting rid of traffic lights in favour of onramps and overpasses in Surrey that I heard in any New Westminster meeting, but there were still a lot of people concerned about the need for the bridge, and the impacts on their community of yet another major highway expansion. Perhaps this should not be surprising, as these people are currently watching the installation of South Fraser Perimeter Road in their neighbourhood – highway expansion is not a hypothetical to them.

One of the issues I heard a lot of (that was new to me) was the encroachment of industrial and commercial development in the Bridgeview Neighbourhood. There are a lot if single-family homes in the area between King George Highway and the new South Fraser Perimeter Road, and the residents are feeling squeezed by the commercial properties along King George, the industrial lands to the east and west, and the new truck route to the north. One resident of 124th was concerned that the proposed expansion of 124th to accommodate truck traffic linking the SFPR to King George was going to bring trucks through the middle of this neighbourhood, and within 20 feet of his house. His house is built on “60 feet of peat bog”, and every time a truck drives by now “I get shaken from one side of the sofa to the other”.  Naturally, goods movement through his front yard does not seem like a good idea to him.

For many Bridgeview residents, the “Upstream” vs. “Downstream” question, which I kind of made fun of for the New Westminster side as an example of a completely irrelevant question, is not at all irrelevant. Downstream means the bridge will extend over a small area of waterfront park space (a limited, and therefore valuable, commodity in Bridgeview), but the Upstream option will move the elevated parts of the bridge closer to their homes, potentially increasing noise and view impacts.

Another thing I learned is that TransLink is actually listening. Many of the issues raised by residents in the first consultation in New Westminster two weeks ago are now being brought up by TransLink during the introductory discussions. This has even resulted in more complete answers being provided to address some of the uncertainties I raised in my earlier posts about this project.

And example is more detailed explanation of the 6-lane bridge decision. Frankly, I still think the “increased safety” argument is a red herring, but the argument for 6-lanes is more fleshed out now with discussion of the business case made back in 2008, and subsequent reviews of the business case. It would be great if the metrics of those analyses were available on the consultation page. Especially as I heard one interesting discussion at this event about how the value of the existing bridge was assessed.

I had something like this question bouncing in my head recently, but I didn’t know how to frame it. Luckily, one of the participants in Surrey was very eloquent on the idea (more than I will be in this paragraph): what about the social and economic value of the existing bridge? Like it or not, the Pattullo is an iconic structure, a steel arch-span bridge similar in age, height and length to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (though less than half as wide). It’s arch has loomed over New Westminster for 75 years: the same age as the Lions Gate Bridge and the Columbia Theatre – two structures of which no-one would argue the heritage value. Surely this has a socio-economic value to the City, and to the region. If Translink wants to replace it with another dull, cookie-cutter, concrete cable-stayed bridge built by the lowest bidder, what value is lost? Honestly, I don’t know how we estimate that value (or if we can), but this is a question that a City that prides itself on its Heritage Values needs to address: What will New Westminster look like without the Pattullo?

Thank You Jack Campbell!

? Another interesting question was raised by one of the participants at the tables rising from the data provided by TransLink. If the daily truck volume is 3,000 and the daily vehicle volume is 60,000, then less than 5% of the volume is actually trucks. 20 cars per truck. So why are we building a 24-hour dedicated truck lane each way? How much do we anticipate truck volumes growing? 3,000 a day is only 1 or 2 each way per minute. This seems like a lot of extra money for very few trucks. Or more frightening, does TransLink think the increase in trucks will be much, much larger? What impact will this have on New Wesmtinster?

Maybe I am getting mired in the details too much, and am missing the fundamental point here; and if so, perhaps TransLink is doing the same thing.

At all of these consultations, I have had friendly chats with TransLink Roads and PR staff, the consultation team from HB Lanarc Golder, and the representatives from the engineering firm that provided the conceptual design work. All of them say the same thing: we need to build a bigger bridge because traffic volumes are going up. Some people in the room disagree with this (as do, apparently, some members of New Westminster Council). So perhaps TransLink should not have sent their roads guys to come and consult with the City of New West on the topic of offramp shapes, but should have sent the Policy Guys to come and discuss the need for a bridge.

Perhaps the fundamental question we need answered is this: What is Translink’s Mandate? Is it to create the transportation system that people want, or that Kevin Falcon wants? Or is it to set transportation policy for the region? I always thought the latter, but the Act seems to suggest they carry both responsibilities. If so,  shouldn’t the Policy part come before the building part?

TransLink’s policy document right now is Transport 2040. So before they send people to New Wesmtinster and Surrey to talk about offramps, they should come to our communities and have a discussion about how Transport 2040 fits our local conditions. Then we can talk about the type of bridge to build. As it is, building an expanded road bridge while Surrey and the Broadway Corridor wait for their long-promised mass transit investments seems to be a demonstration of a policy very diffrent than laid out in Transport 2040. 

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