New Westminster unveils vision for Front Street, waterfront connections

This image shows how a proposed overpass from Sixth Street could work with Westminster Pier Park and the remainder of the parkade. - Courtesy City of New Westminster
This image shows how a proposed overpass from Sixth Street could work with Westminster Pier Park and the remainder of the parkade.
— image credit: Courtesy City of New Westminster

New Westminster is going to pursue its own vision for Front Street now that TransLink is backing off previous plans for the narrow Downtown thoroughfare congested by truck traffic and trains.

A report to council on Monday revealed details of the city’s plans to connect the Downtown to the waterfront with the side benefit of eliminating or vastly reducing the controversial train whistles that have plagued the Quayside neighbourhood.

TransLink is no longer pursuing a United Boulevard Extension, has put off plans to build the North Fraser Perimeter Road, and does not intend to connect Front Street to a reconstructed Pattullo Bridge when or if it is built. The city has decided to go ahead with its own ideas even if TransLink does not grant New Westminster’s request to have Front Street removed as a truck route.

“That changed our entire view,” said Coun. Bill Harper on Tuesday of TransLink’s positions.

“It’s important for the city to build what the city wants to build,” said Coun. Jonathan Cote.

To improve access to the waterfront, the city intends to build an overpass at the foot of Sixth Street.

The vehicle overpass would start at Columbia Street, cross over Front and the rail lines before connecting to an extended Quayside Drive. A pedestrian and cyclist ramp that wouldn’t be as steep would land in Westminster Pier Park. The overpass would eliminate the need for the at-grade level crossing at Begbie, and the need for train whistles to be blown at both locations.

The report proposes a restaurant be built in the park at Sixth Street with two entrances, one from the park and another at the overpass level with an elevator.

To get the money to build the overpass, the city intends to apply for senior government grants and, according to the report, Larco Developments is obligated to pay half the cost as a condition of its development agreement.

Part of the parkade between Begbie and Sixth streets would have to be demolished to build the overpass. The city is proposing to upgrade the other portion of the parkade, between Fourth and Sixth, extending its life another 30 years. The report said, as of 2009, only about 40 to 44 per cent of the parkade’s 765 spaces are used and the demolition would eliminate only about a third of them.

The demolition would also allow additional on-street parking along Front Street and open up its streetscape. New Westminster has asked the Salient Group’s Robert Fung, developer of the Trapp Block, to devise a plan that keeps in mind a pedestrian-oriented commercial street for Front.

“It would change Front Street into a neighbourhood street and not a truck route,” said Harper.

Cote said, “To open up the back of those historic buildings will change people’s view of that area and the waterfront.”

Council approved the vision on Monday and gave city staff the go ahead to pursue funding and to assess the costs.

The report did not put a dollar figure to the financial impact except to say the costs and the capital investment would be significant.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in order to accommodate it. Where will the traffic go?” said Harper.

City staff will be looking at redirecting Front Street truck traffic to Royal and Tenth avenues as well as having TransLink funnel as much as possible to the South Fraser Perimeter Road once its completed. The report said the city could implement other measures such as truck time limitations and truck size restrictions, although those would require approval from TransLink.

“The trucks do need to go somewhere, and the city needs to acknowledge that,” said Cote, who believes Royal Avenue would be a more viable connection to Sapperton.

Although the city intends to proceed even if the trucks aren’t diverted by TransLink, which is responsible for the route running through New Westminster, it wouldn’t be the same, said Harper. “To have all the trucks there with their toxic gases and noise would be unproductive.”

The city will hold public meetings on the project and has already met with Front Street property owners, the parking commission and Downtown Business Improvement Association.

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