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City takes exception to Stone comments

Many residents said they saw an immediate increase in traffic in New West when tolls on the Port Mann doubled last month. - NewsLeader file photo
Many residents said they saw an immediate increase in traffic in New West when tolls on the Port Mann doubled last month.
— image credit: NewsLeader file photo

Transportation Minister Todd Stone's comments that the city should find its own solutions to congested streets isn't sitting well at city hall.

On Wednesday, the city held a press conference stating New West supports a tolled, four-lane replacement for the Pattullo Bridge. Mayor Wayne Wright said the city can't handle the increase in traffic a new five- or six-lane crossing would create.

Part of Stone's response was a call for the city to do its part to relieve heavy traffic within its boundaries.

"The City of New Westminster really has to come to the table with a clear plan on what they intend to do to decongest their own road network," said Stone. "There's no point in building a new structure that would then just take motorists into a wall on the New Westminster side."

That didn't go over too well with Coun. Jonathan Coté.

"The minister of transportation has to realize there is no room for road expansion in New Westminster," said Coté. "There is no room for paving over parks. We're not going to be paving over our historic downtown to make room for even more traffic in our city.

"New Westminster already serves over 400,000 vehicles of through traffic every day. We feel our road network is doing its share of moving people and moving goods. Now is the time to put policies in place for moving goods and people to where it is intended to go."

The city's engineering department also says expanding New West's road system isn't practical.

"New Westminster has an historic street network established in the early part of the 20th century which was not designed to accommodate the level of traffic we are seeing today," said engineering director Jim Lowrie.

"As a high-density, compact city, it is practically impossible to retrofit the street system to accommodate additional traffic."

Lowrie said the city supports TransLink's goal to limit vehicle traffic in the region to current levels. It also supports the goal of having 50 per cent of all trips involve transit, cycling or walking.

Lowrie said despite congested streets, New West already has the second highest level of transit ridership in the region next to Vancouver. It is also second only to Vancouver in having the lowest number of car owners. That includes 30 per cent of those living in Downtown New West not owning a vehicle.

"We believe it is unfair for the city to have to address the increased congestion being created by the diversion of traffic from the Port Mann Bridge onto city streets," Lowrie said.

Stone also said tolling the new Pattullo would violate a promise the province made when it tolled the Port Mann. They said the 76-year-old Pattullo would be available as a free alternative to cross the Fraser River.

Coté says New West made a thoughtful argument when Wright laid out the city's position with a 40-page document. Coté, who is co-chair of the city's master transportation plan task force, said the province's reaction wasn't fully thought out.

"I would have appreciated it if they had taken some time to go through the report before making a comment like that," said Coté.

Lowrie added the city has let the ministry know its views many times, including sending several letters.

"It seems to no avail. It doesn't seem we have the ear of the minister on this topic."

– with file from Tom Fletcher, Jeff Nagel

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