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Traffic sure feels worse, but is it?

Trucks line up for the Pattullo Bridge at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. - Trevor Morgan/Contributed
Trucks line up for the Pattullo Bridge at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
— image credit: Trevor Morgan/Contributed

The numbers haven’t been tallied yet to prove what they’re seeing, but when they are, two New Westminster councillors expect they will confirm their belief that traffic congestion has increased because tolls on the Port Mann Bridge have doubled.

Rush hour is usually bad in New West, but it appeared worse early this week with the first return to work in the new year for many commuters. Coun. Lorrie Williams said it took her 17 minutes just to go two kilometres from city hall to her Sapperton home. That works out to less than 10 km/h.

“I was amazed. Everywhere I looked there was traffic,” said Williams. “There was an absolute difference in the volume of traffic. The number of cars was just unbelievable.”

On Jan. 1, vehicle tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge doubled to $3 a crossing.

That works out to $1,500 a year for someone using it twice a day, five days a week for 50 weeks.

That also coincides with the opening of the full South Fraser Perimeter Road, built for goods transportation, which has a long roundabout connection to the Port Mann Bridge but a much more direct one to the Pattullo.

“Everyone is noticing it is having an impact. [Monday] I saw a lot more traffic heading down Sixth Street to Royal, and Royal was a lot more congested than normal at rush hour time,” said Coun. Jonathan Coté, a Downtown New Westminster resident.

“We’re used to congestion in New Westminster, but generally it looks to be getting worse with the tolls on the Port Mann.”

Coté has some sympathy for the commuters, but he also believes they’re not taking all the factors into account.

“I can understand why people are making the decision, the costs certainly can add up and budgets are tight, and it’s certainly not surprising. [But] I think people are underestimating the costs of fuel,” said Coté.

Williams said it will be interesting to see how commuters’ traffic patterns evolve with the tolls.

“It depends on whether they value their time or their money. Going over the Port Mann is a breeze,” said Williams, who pointed out some of the commuters are even rat running through the city hall parking lot to avoid congestion.

Both are hoping the clogged traffic will finally force discussion from the province and the region about what to do not only with the Pattullo Bridge but the area’s overall transportation system.

“One of the problems was the number of trucks [Monday],” said Williams, noting truck tolls were not part of the Jan. 1 increase.

“We’ve got to lure the trucks back to the Port Mann. That’s where they belong, they don’t belong on the Pattullo Bridge … The Pattullo Bridge wasn’t built for them. That’s what makes people nervous, if there’s one beside you and then one coming at you.”

She added even the truck drivers can’t be happy sitting in traffic on McBride Boulevard, and she supports lowering their tolls on the Port Mann.

Coté said a better way to direct the trucks to the under utilized SFPR and Port Mann Bridge needs to be found.

City staff will be having a good look at the numbers for this week’s traffic on the Pattullo when TransLink releases them later this month.

“Anecdotally we’re seeing longer queues approaching the bridge, but it’s only been about a week or so,” said engineering department director Jim Lowrie.

New Westminster police Staff Sgt. Paul Hyland said the department’s traffic officers did notice a slight increase in traffic around town during rush hours this week, but they believe it had as much to do with people going back to work following the holidays.

Since it’s only been a short time that the full tolls have been implemented, he added the department couldn’t yet pinpoint the cause of increased traffic.

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