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6-lane Pattullo bridge not in best interests of Metro Vancouver

Letter that Transport Action BC sent to TransLink this week.

We are writing regarding TransLink’s decision to replace the aging Pattullo Bridge with a wider, 6-lane facility. We do not think that a higher capacity Pattullo Bridge is in the best interests of our region. It meets neither the goals of TransLink’s 2040 vision, nor does it fit into the strategies set out to meet TransLink’s goals. Given the extraordinary cost and risk of this project, the relatively small constituency it serves and the exemplary opportunity in this corridor to create the 2040 mode shift which is so critical to the economic viability and livability of our region, we urge TransLink to rethink its plans for this bridge.

image of the bridge arches
Pattullo Bridge details, photo by Flickr user GS+

When it opened in the 1930’s the Pattullo Bridge was the primary crossing of the Fraser River for vehicle traffic and served as a regional connection between the Burrard Peninsula and the Fraser Valley/USA. With the opening of the Port Mann Bridge and the Hwy 1 corridor in the 1960’s this role was, however, lost. Indeed, the primary role of the Port Mann Bridge was reinforced recently by the Provincial decision to replace it with a massive 10 lane structure and to widen Hwy 1. The Pattullo now serves mostly the local needs of Surrey, New Westminster and Burnaby residents; a connection which is largely duplicated by the SkyBridge and the extensive SkyTrain network which has successfully served the residents of these communities and remains less than full capacity. In short the local needs of the Pattullo Bridge users (typically less than 40,000 users/day – 2 way trips) do not justify the almost 1 billion dollar investment from the regional Transportation authority, particularly when other options are available.

TransLink’s models have predicted significant traffic growth in the Pattullo corridor yet these predictions cannot reflect our region’s changing demographics, the influence of peak oil on travel patterns and choices, and the improved land use patterns throughout the region, all of which reduce the need to travel distances to get to work or amenities. These factors have already resulted in a considerable reduction in travel demand in many cities throughout North America. TransLink has an opportunity to encourage this shift in travel behavior by investing in quality public transit and preferentially supporting energy efficient modes for goods movement. To achieve this mode shift TransLink must invest in the quality transit connections to SkyTrain, particularly in Surrey where lack of transit services continues to fail the expectations of residents. In addition, improved transit connections within Surrey will promote land use changes which will reduce the need to travel throughout the region.

Much of the growth in goods movements envisioned for this corridor can be handled through the rail and river modes using existing or modestly upgraded facilities and investments in better intermodal connections. In the future the role of these modes will be much more important if our ports are to compete on the international stage in a world of high energy costs and unsolvable congestion challenges.

Finally we are concerned that the high cost of a 6 lane Pattullo Bridge could have detrimental impacts on transportation throughout the region if the traffic predictions are not met and TransLink is left with unfunded liabilities similar to the current situation with the Golden Ears Bridge. It seems that TransLink’s traffic models over-estimate the traffic demand when tolls are involved. Additional debt servicing costs could leave other essential elements of the transportation system starved of operating funds.

In conclusion, we ask the board of TransLink to reconsider its determination to build a 6 lane replacement to the Pattullo Bridge. TransLink should be using the strength of its multi-modal mandate to ensure that transportation corridors and facilities are used as efficiently as possible and that all major investments contribute directly and effectively to the important goals outlined in TransLink’s 2040 vision.

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