Truckers are dismayed while freeway opponents are elated after TransLink’s decision to freeze plans for the key first phase of the North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR) due to opposition in New Westminster.
The United Boulevard Extension, connecting the Coquitlam artery to Brunette Avenue in New West, would have created a major new east-west route for goods movement in the heart of Metro Vancouver.
But the project is on hold after TransLink concluded it can’t bridge the divide between neighbourhood concerns and the regional need for the new link.
“We’re very disappointed,” B.C. Trucking Association president and CEO Paul Landry said. “It may not be all over yet, but it certainly doesn’t look very good.”
Unless New Westminster council has a change of heart, he said, it appears the only chance of the project proceeding is if the provincial government intervenes.
“I don’t pretend to know what the opportunities would be there,” Landry said.
“As long as we have pinch points like this it’s going to impair economic growth in the region and the province, I think, needs to consider that.”
New West’s central position in the region means heavy traffic there is inevitable, Landry said, adding it makes more sense to build the perimeter road and try to speed traffic through the area than allow congestion, emissions and other impacts to persist and perhaps worsen.
“It’s in all our best interests to make it as easy as possible for that traffic to navigate through New Westminster.”
TransLink concluded no option can meet the needs of both the regional road network and local interests and asked New Westminster and Coquitlam councils to give further advice on whether to ultimately scrap the project.
Eric Doherty, a campaigner opposing freeway expansion, said he hopes the decision kills the North Fraser Perimeter Road for good.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think it marks a turning point for the whole region.”
Doherty said the road would create a waterfront highway, degrade New Westminster’s downtown and run counter to the vision for a pleasant livable city along the Fraser River.
Stopping the perimeter road blocks a project he said would increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions and allow the money to instead be shifted to public transit.
Doherty said he wants to see a regional goods movement strategy developed to reduce the number of trucks on the roads and instead move more cargo by rail and short sea shipping.
“Because the price of oil is so high and unstable, the business case for that is getting stronger and stronger.”
The North Fraser Perimeter Road has for years been a regional priority for TransLink to improve goods movement from the north end of the Queensborough Bridge to the northeast sector through New Westminster, via Front Street and Brunette.
The $150-million project has committed federal Pacific Gateway funding of $65 million, with the rest to be raised by TransLink from other sources.
The Pattullo Bridge replacement will likely be four lanes rather than six if the North Fraser Perimeter Road is ultimately scrapped, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said.
He said TransLink intends to begin consulting soon on the plan to replace the bridge.
Rehabilitation work in recent years means the Pattullo can be used until 2020, he said, but the aim is to have the replacement built well before then.