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New Westminster residents say Port Mann toll already clogging streets

With the Pattullo Bridge now the closest free alternative for motorists seeking to cross the Fraser River without paying tolls, there are fears the traffic through New Westminster will increase. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
With the Pattullo Bridge now the closest free alternative for motorists seeking to cross the Fraser River without paying tolls, there are fears the traffic through New Westminster will increase.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Kelly Grant is so frustrated with her commute through New Westminster from Victoria Hill to Richmond since the Port Mann Bridge was tolled Dec. 8, she believes she'd be better off leaving her car in Queensborough.

"It's been gridlock every single morning. It's been insane," said Grant, who timed her trip that should take 10 minutes at 37 minutes one morning. "I could actually run it faster."

Ever since it was announced the new Port Mann would be tolled there have been fears New Westminster would become even more jammed as commuters shifted to the Pattullo, Alex Fraser and Queensborough bridges as alternatives.

There was quite a bit of Twitter chatter last week to suggest that fear is becoming reality.

New Westminster resident Jason Vanderhill commutes across the Pattullo Bridge, going against the rush hour traffic. It hadn't been a difficult trip for him until last week, he says. And he's noticed the increase in traffic going the other way as well.

"It is no longer smooth sailing. Southbound lanes into Surrey at that early hour are already busier, and northbound lanes have been notably bogged down," wrote Vanderhill in an email to the NewsLeader. "Starting next year, I will no longer be commuting across the bridge."

Ken Bourdeau, who recently received an urban planning degree, has a bird's eye view from his top-floor high-rise apartment near Moody Park.

"I've been noticing quite a bit of a difference in the traffic lately," said Bourdeau. "During rush hour it's just bumper-to-bumper traffic up and down Stewardson (Way) and Eighth Avenue. There used to be breathing room between the cars, but now it's more bumper to bumper."

Coun. Jonathan Coté, co-chair of the city's Master Transportation Plan advisory committee, has heard a lot of similar stories from New West residents in the past week. He cautions that the anecdotes have yet to be backed up by facts.

"I don't think we can jump to any conclusions," said Coté.

The city and TransLink are taking traffic counts on a regular basis. Coté believes the true effects of commuters seeking to avoid the Port Mann toll won't be known until the tolls are fully phased in, and the quieter holiday traffic gives way to regular patterns in the new year. Coté is also curious about the count consequences next December when the toll doubles for registered drivers.

"That might be another trigger point when I expect to see some other differences in traffic patterns," said Coté.

Kelly Grant doesn't see the advantage for commuters going the long way around to avoid paying the toll.

"That's not cheap either to idle your gas dollars away for hours at a time," said Grant.

However, that's a hard concept for commuters to grasp, said Bourdeau. A toll is a tangible amount they can add up. Figuring out how much more a commute costs in gas to avoid the toll is harder to nail down since most drivers just go to the pump and fill up.

"They don't really think about that," he said.

Bourdeau believes one answer is to toll all the bridges and crossings in the Lower Mainland. Put low-cost tolls on all of them to spread the pain around and keep traffic moving where it should, he said. But he isn't expecting such a move any time soon.

"Nothing's going to be done in the short term because of the [provincial election in May]. Nobody is going to come out and do that, and especially [Premier] Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, if they hope to get reelected, because if they put some tolls on (the bridges) nobody will vote for them."

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