Pattullo Bridge likely central at New Westminster transportation talks Thursday

The Pattullo Bridge has become almost as hot a topic of conversation in New Westminster as trading Roberto Luongo.

Everyone will get a chance to speak their mind about it—the Pattullo Bridge that is—on Thursday when the city holds two open houses on its Master Transportation Plan and its position on replacing the Pattullo Bridge.

The first open house at Century House (2 to 4 p.m.) will have a seniors focus to it. The evening session will be held at the Justice Institute starting at 6 p.m., although the presentations won't begin until 7 p.m.

Reena Meijer Drees, president of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, feels the meetings are so important the organization has been going to neighbourhood residents association meetings, sending out emails and leaflets, and door knocking trying to get people to show up.

"We really want people out there," said Meijer-Drees.

The organization, she said, would like to see the city develop a strong position on the Pattullo. NWEP wants all sorts of size and location options discussed, from a 10-lane bridge to no bridge, not just the six-lane proposal beside the current structure TransLink has decided on.

"Most of the feedback we're hearing is negative, that people don't want a six-lane bridge. They're very concerned about the level of traffic," said Meijer-Drees.

She added, NWEP members are finding when they tell New West residents that one option would be to close the bridge and not replace it, their eyes light up and they say, "Oh, yeah? We could do that?"

The Pattullo, however, won't be the only topic of conversation because the open houses' broader purpose is creating the city's master transportation plan.

"What we're hoping is, it will pull people in, that this live, hot nature of the Pattullo issue will draw people into thinking about the bigger picture about where the trucks should go, how children get to school, how goods go through the city," said Meijer-Drees

She conceded so much focus on the Pattullo could hijack attention away from the city's numerous other important transportation issues.

"That may be the case. That said, it's really something the city needs to get a position on pretty quickly because TransLink has pretty well come out and said what its position is. They've got a six-lane bridge and they're not toying with it," said Meijer-Drees.

Coun. Jonathan Cote, who is chairing the master transportation plan committee along with Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, said the Pattullo has stirred up a lot of discussion.

"For good reason, the impacts of the Pattullo Bridge will be huge on New Westminster and the livability of our neighbourhoods," said Cote.

The city, he said, needs to get some guidance, through consultation and discussion, about what position to take on the Pattullo. If the residents support TransLink's position then OK, but if they strongly oppose the options presented then the city needs to aggressively pursue that.

"We're very frustrated with TransLink's process. They essentially presented just one option," said Cote. "This is too important a transportation decision for not just New Westminster but the region to not be pushing ahead with that dialogue."

Cote said one positive effect of the attention the Pattullo Bridge has received is it has gotten New Westminster residents involved.

"The more people we get out the better we can develop a position."

Other master transportation plan topics include walking, cycling, transit, goods movement and vehicles.

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