New Westminster’s Pattullo Bridge concerns legitimate: Lekstrom

Provincial Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said the Pattullo Bridge needs to be replaced, but New Westminster has some “legitimate concerns” about the extra traffic it will impose upon city streets.

Lekstrom met with Mayor Wayne Wright and councillors Chuck Puchmayr, Jaimie McEvoy and Jonathan Cote last week. They told Lekstrom the city wasn’t being heard by TransLink, which is responsible for the Pattullo. The minister promised to make such a meeting happen.

“We will work to coordinate a meeting with the parties to see what the future holds,” said Lekstrom in an interview from his constituency office in Dawson Creek.

Lekstrom said some solutions to deal with the extra traffic New Westminster will incur if a new six-lane span is built have to be found to ensure traffic will flow through the community.

“That’s vitally important whether it’s New Westminster or any other city,” he said.

Puchmayr said when he was an NDP MLA he thought of Lekstrom “as one of the straightforward members on the other side of the bench.” He welcomed Lekstrom’s offer to make a meeting happen.

“At least there’s some sort of starting point here, to get both players at the table on this,” said Puchmayr. “I think we need to slow this [process] down a bit, put the pencils down. We need to stop everything to say here’s what we need to accomplish and this is what we need to do it.”

It will be challenging, however, to find ways to keep traffic flowing through New Westminster, said Puchmayr, because it would require expropriating park, development, fire department and school land.

“We’ve been doing more than our share, we’re doing more than our share. For anyone to think we’re being elitist here they’re being outlandish,” said Puchmayr. “We can’t take another vehicle, we literally can’t.”

At the meeting, Puchmayr also laid out his case for having the province connect the South Fraser Perimeter Road, currently under construction, directly to the new Port Mann Bridge.

He said although TransLink has said engineers have determined the terrain to build on and off ramps there are too steep, the grade isn’t as severe as the out-of-the-way connector that will actually be used to link SFPR to Highway 1.

Puchmayr took some measurements with a GPS system that includes elevation. He noted on the Surrey side of the Pattullo, the road starts one metre above sea level and within a kilometre rises to 46 metres over the Fraser River which he said equates to a five per cent grade.

His measurements surrounding the Port Mann Bridge suggest it would take a similar length and height to connect to the SFPR.

Current plans call for traffic wanting to go from the SFPR to Highway 1 to drive under the Port Mann and eventually loop to the freeway at the 176th Street entrance. Puchmayr took that road from its base at Port Kells and said it rose 60 metres in less than one kilometre, a seven per cent grade.

“I’m really starting to doubt the statistics we’re getting from TransLink,” he said. “We’re being told things can’t be done, but we’re not being shown why. We’re not being shown the science behind the modelling, so I’m becoming suspicious of the science behind it.”

Despite Puchmayr’s presentation last week, Lekstrom doesn’t see it that way.

“All of our experts say topography plays a large role on the east side of the Port Mann,” said Lekstrom. “I’m comfortable with the design.”

Puchmayr also said truckers headed to the Tri-Cities who take the new Port Mann will have to travel an extra 15 kilometres and pay a toll. That will make it more likely they’ll continue to use the Pattullo, especially if a new six-lane span is built that includes a truck lane going each way.

“I truly believe if they have the option of going that route or taking a Pattullo with a specific truck lane on it, even if there’s a gridlock on the [New Westminster side] they will do that,” said Puchmayr. “It’s a no-brainer to me.”

He said every time he’s spoken to truck drivers they are shocked to find out there won’t be a SFPR-Port Mann connection.

“The trucking industry should be up in arms about this. They should be saying you’re not helping us move goods. This is not helping them,” Puchmayr said. “[Truck lanes on the Pattullo] doesn’t really appease them, unless they’re traveling at night. During the day they’re just going to dump truckers into gridlock. Goods movement will not be served well by this plan.”

Lekstrom, however, said it was always the intention to have truckers using SFPR to take the Port Mann to get to the north side of the Fraser River unless they are transporting goods to New Westminster. In his view, truckers will utilize the Port Mann because it will take less time than sitting in traffic congestion. He also pointed out tolls are likely going to be considered for the Pattullo.

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