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North Fraser Perimeter Road in danger?
Planning for the United Boulevard Extension (UBE) and North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR) could be stopped if TransLink and New Westminster can’t agree on a solution.
In December, the city rejected all the options presented for the UBE in the fall of 2010. Since then TransLink has provided a timeline for coming up with a new solution by March 31. A city report to council Monday said, “TransLink has indicated that it may terminate the UBE/NFPR project development if it becomes apparent that no agreeable solution framework can be found between the city and TransLink.”
Mayor Wayne Wright, when asked if that meant if the March 31 deadline wasn’t met the UBE and NFPR projects could be scuttled, said “That would be up to TransLink.”
The proposed extension would link Brunette Avenue to United Boulevard in Coquitlam, and is part of the NFPR linking the Queensborough Bridge and the Golden Ears Bridge in Maple Ridge.
New Westminster did not support previous UBE options because they would run too close to residential areas, and there was concern they would simply create more traffic issues further along.
Wright would like one idea, previously rejected by TransLink, that would see the extension run through an industrial area, back on the table. However, he said whatever option is agreed upon there isn’t enough time to go through all the appropriate public hearing, review and planning processes by March 31.
“What can you do in a month’s time? It’s impossible,” said Wright.
(A TransLink spokesman was unable to speak to the issue until after the NewsLeader’s deadline.)
Part of the need to take it slow, Wright said, is because much depends on what is done with the aging Pattullo Bridge. Last week, TransLink announced it was reviewing its decision to build a new Pattullo. Where it connects to New Westminster will determine much of what can be done with NFPR, specifically Front Street where there are some significant challenges in building a four-lane road, and that will also affect the UBE.
“The Pattullo is going to tell us what cars are going to come off that and then the Port Mann Bridge,” said Wright.
In the mayor’s perfect world, the NFPR could avoid Front Street by building a tunnel underneath Royal Avenue to connect Stewardson Way to the bridge and UBE. There are 500,000 vehicles commuting through New West daily, said Wright.
“We’ve got to have some respite. It can’t keep going on.”
Tolls are a must because that will help pay for the projects within 20 or 30 years, but they have to be low enough to attract a high volume of vehicles, said Wright. Even if only $1 is charged then it would be $500,000 a day could be put toward building a tunnel or bridge, which would be paid for within 20 or 30 years according to the mayor’s math.
“Wherever you go it’s tolls. Italy, France, Australia, Ontario, they’re all tolling because there’s no other way of funding,” Wright said.
Matthew Laird, vice-president of New Westminster Environmental Partners, is happy TransLink is revisiting its Pattullo Bridge decision.
“It’s an opportunity to rethink if this is the best course of action to take when creating a long-term plan for our transportation network,” said Laird.
In 2008, TransLink decided the Pattullo needed replacing with a six-lane structure financed through tolls. He believes, however, the province is pressuring TransLink to find a free alternative.
“Tolls are absolutely necessary. They will keep traffic where it belongs which is on the 10-lane [Port Mann Bridge],” said Laird.
“New Westminster is already flooded with commuter traffic. The road structure on both sides of the bridge is not set up for heavy traffic.”
Laird said although the Pattullo’s safety problems have to be addressed, the $1 billion to build a new connection would be better spent on other transportation priorities such as the Evergreen Line and expanded transit in Surrey.