Transportation minister Shirley Bond is defending a move to consider fixing up the antiquated Pattullo Bridge rather than tearing it down and building a replacement.
A refurbishment of the existing 73-year-old bridge – which is far narrower than modern standards allow and the site of many fatal crashes over the years – would avoid the prickly political issue of putting tolls on a new replacement bridge between Surrey and New Westminster.
“All of us want to work to build a structure for the long term that’s safe,” Bond said. “We also do need to consider the impact of tolls.”
Both Bond and previous transportation minister Kevin Falcon had pledged to seek ways to avoid making the Pattullo the third toll bridge over the Fraser, leaving the Alex Fraser Bridge as the nearest free alternative.
TransLink had committed in 2008 to build a new six-lane bridge and planning has been underway since then on the basis it would be financed through tolls.
But public hearings on how a new Pattullo would connect with area roads last fall were postponed after the decision to re-examine options to refurbish the existing bridge instead of building new.
Bond denied her ministry directed TransLink to re-examine the issue, adding it was “a mutual decision” of staff from both agencies who sit on a technical steering committee.
“I don’t think a new bridge is off the table at all,” she said. “TransLink is doing the due diligence necessary before proceeding with what could turn out to be a billion-dollar project.”
TransLink has jurisdiction over the Pattullo and will make the final decisions on what to build, she added.
The ministry has also questioned the scope of the plan to build a new bridge, particularly whether a six-lane bridge is justified or whether a four-lane span is sufficient.
“We want best value for taxpayer dollars and we want safety,” Bond added.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says a new bridge is required, adding she’s concerned a renovation of the old one might add only 10 years life and leave taxpayers on the hook for an expensive replacement later on.
“You’re just buying some time,” she said. “At the end of the day, that bridge does need to be replaced.”
But Watts said a careful reassessment of the assumptions and plans made to date may be wise, adding she looks forward to seeing any justification for fixing rather than replacing the Pattullo.
Watts also doesn’t want to see the bridge tolled and continues to advocate for a new policy of “fair tolling” in the region.
Past studies looked at options like adding a median barrier and banning trucks or reducing the Pattullo to three lanes with a counterflow, like the Lions Gate Bridge.
TransLink was advised to build a new bridge and that the existing one would last at most another 50 years.
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Patil Huberman said the bridge must be replaced without delay.
“This bridge is a key arterial connector in a region that is and will continue to experience explosive growth with the obvious impact on road transportation and transit,” she said.
Some critics are happy the bridge building plan is on hold and may be scrapped.
Freeway expansion opponent Eric Doherty, of the group Gateway Sucks, called it great news.
“This is a case of misplaced priorities,” he said. “We can’t be expected to spend a billion dollars on a new bridge that’s not really needed when there isn’t enough money to do the Evergreen Line or rapid transit on King George (Boulevard) in Surrey.”
Doherty said it’s been unclear so far how a six-lane Pattullo replacement was going to work on the New Westminster side without demolishing houses to punch through new lanes.
He said any delay on the Pattullo will give more opportunity to reconsider the related North Fraser Perimeter Road and United Boulevard extension that he said are opposed by significant numbers of New Westminster residents.