Opinion

COLUMN: Bridging gap between cities

New Westminster council is sending a letter to fellow councils throughout the Lower Mainland, campaigning against a six-lane replacement for the Pattullo Bridge.

This is often billed as a Surrey-versus-New Westminster battle, but in fact, there is much more to it.

It is also important to consider the links between Surrey and New Westminster in their historical context.

The original link between the two communities was by ferry. In 1904, when the current rail bridge between the two cities was built, it included an upper deck for pedestrians, horses and the very occasional motor vehicle. By the 1930s, that narrow bridge was hopelessly out of date.

A new bridge was proposed, and it could easily have been built at a different location – most likely further east. However, New Westminster pressed hard for the bridge to be built near the existing crossing, because New Westminster businesses benefited heavily from Fraser Valley customers.

In those days, Surrey had few retail outlets and regional services, such as the hospital, courts, technical school and the farmers’ market, were all located in New Westminster.

The province bowed to the pressure and the Pattullo opened in 1937.

When the Port Mann Bridge opened in 1964, things started to change. New Westminster was bypassed and the city gradually lost most of its regional connections to Surrey and other south-of-the-river communities.

It also lost much of its industrial tax base. Many of the industries, such as the brewery, lumber mills and docks, employed a lot of Surrey residents.

New Westminster has become more of a suburb to other communities, notably Vancouver.

When SkyTrain opened in 1986, it was the initial “end of the line” and this led to a great deal of residential development, which continues to this day.

New Westminster residents do not need to own cars and many can’t understand why so many Surrey residents use cars so much. The lack of transit options south of the Fraser is a mystery to them.

This attitude of indifference is reflected in the approach of New Westminster city council, which has done little in the way of traffic improvements over the past two decades, other than put in a number of barriers to prevent “rat running” through residential neighbourhoods. There is a lack of left-turn lanes, road widening and provision for trucks.

Letter-writer Roger Simmons, a truck driver, pointed out in a recent letter to the Surrey-North Delta Leader that the six lanes are no advantage to New Westminster, and he’s right. As he says, they probably aren’t an advantage to Surrey residents either, given that they will be stalled on roads that have changed little since the 1960s once they cross the bridge.

Simmons points out where some traffic improvements would really make a difference. One is at the junction of 72 Avenue and Highway 91 in Delta; another involves traffic on Highway 91A through Queensborough. Both of these locations are badly congested, daily. In fact, Queensborough is so difficult to get in and out of that rents tend to be lower there.

Simmons’ final suggested improvement, to have more light rail transit south of the Fraser, is one that Surrey politicians and planners would love to see – but TransLink has yet to indicate that one cent will be made available for any implementation.

As Surrey grows, and there are more jobs south of the Fraser, a Surrey-oriented rapid transit system will make more and more sense. There will be even fewer reasons to go to New Westminster.

Perhaps the best thing to do with the Pattullo is just leave it alone. The toll situation needs to be made fairer, and that would ease some of the congestion, but beyond that, it may not be worth spending anything on it.

New Westminster wanted it right where it was built, and it may be in Surrey’s best interests to respect that long-ago decision.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

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