UPDATED: Bailey bridge battle brewing between New Westminster and Coquitlam
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart has blasted New Westminster's decision to proceed unilaterally to replace the single-lane Bailey Bridge that connects the two cities.
Because the crossing is an inter-municipal road, Stewart told The Tri-City News that New West's actions are illegal and that Coquitlam should have been properly consulted before any plans were put in place.
"New Westminster doesn't have the right to do anything unilaterally," Stewart said. "It would be really unfortunate if they were able to circumvent the dispute resolution mechanism."
The two cities are currently going to arbitration to decide the future of the crossing. Coquitlam has been pushing for a two-lane bridge while New Westminster said its roads cannot handle the traffic volume that would come with widening the single-lane span.
A wrinkle in the dispute process came several weeks ago when engineers discovered cracks in the bridge, forcing its closure.
Stewart said he was personally assured by New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright several weeks ago that the bridge would be fixed rather than replaced. But engineers in the Royal City said this week a replacement bridge similar to the current crossing is being assembled and will likely be in place by the end of April.
New Westminster's assertions that the current Bailey Bridge cannot be repaired are false, according to Stewart.
"The repair to the bridge has already been designed," he said. "It seems clear that they want to have a one-lane bridge for the next 20 years. The public does not want that, including businesses on their side of the border."
Wright told The News on Monday that engineers in his municipality said the crossing was in worse shape than initially thought. The safest way to proceed, he added, was to set up a temporary single-lane bridge that was loaned to the city by the province.
Wright also disagreed with Stewart's assertions that New Westminster's decision to move forward with a temporary bridge was illegal.
"We are not trying to be obstructionist," he said. "That's just not there. At the end of the day, we need to figure out what's going to work."
The fact that the bridge is on loan from the provincial government proves that the city does not intend for the temporary bridge to become a permanent crossing, Wright said. He added that he would like to see the traffic problems at the foot of Braid Street due to the train crossing addressed before New Westminster is asked to handle more traffic coming through the area.
The Bailey Bridge dispute comes at a time when New Westminster is seeking support for their city's position on a replacement for the Patullo Bridge.
Last month, New West Coun. Chuck Puchmayr told city councillors in Port Coqutilam that his city cannot handle the traffic increase that would come with a proposed six-lane bridge. He also said that tolls would be necessary on a new Fraser River crossing to control traffic volumes coming through the Royal City.
"It is estimated that 450,000 trips a day pass through [New Westminster], the majority of which have no origin or destination in the city," he said at the time. "Seventy-five thousand trucks and cars use the bridge every day."
At that meeting, PoCo Coun. Mike Forrest pressed Puchmayr on the Bailey bridge, saying Tri-City motorists have suffered because of New Westminster's reticence to replace the crossing at the foot of Braid Street with a two-lane bridge.
Mayor Greg Moore told Puchmayr that municipalities need to consider regional needs when dealing with traffic issues. New Westminster has deliberately made it difficult for motorists to go through the city in an effort to make drivers avoid the city altogether, he said.
"Those are some of the challenges we need to look at in a more regional perspective," he said.