TransLink still wants to build an all-new Pattullo Bridge rather than a cheaper fix to refurbish the existing span and avoid tolls.
The regional transportation authority came to that conclusion after reviewing all the options over the last several months at the urging of the provincial transportation ministry.
“Looking at the results, on balance Translink still prefers a six-lane new bridge,” spokesman Ken Hardie said.
“There are some things you can do to the existing bridge but it would take quite a bit of money and you would still have some of the same kinds of limitations as today.”
Former transportation minister Shirley Bond had said refurbishing instead of replacing the existing bridge could save money and potentially avoid the need to toll the crossing.
TransLink’s latest finding is a repeat of the decision reached three years ago when its board ruled out short-term fixes and pledged to build a new bridge, using tolls if necessary.
The 73-year-old bridge is far narrower than new bridges can be built today.
Motorists complain of trucks encroaching into adjacent lanes and there have been repeated demands for a median barrier in response to numerous fatal crashes on the bridge or its approaches over the years.
Hardie said the bridge deck can’t be widened where it abuts the yellow superstructure girders, making a four-lane safety upgrade along its entire length impossible.
The alternative, he said, is to convert it into a three-lane bridge with a counterflow system like the Lions Gate Bridge.
But the counterflow scenario would mean long backups on whichever side traffic is constricted to a single lane, he said.
“Both of those represented technical issues in terms of traffic flow,” he said.
Asked whether the province concurs in the decision, Hardie referred questions to the transportation ministry, where officials said the bridge is TransLink’s jurisdiction.
While both the province and TransLink have said they’d like to find a way to pay for the new bridge without using tolls, Hardie said they remain on the table.
“Tolls remain an option if there is no other way of paying for it,” he said.
Whether the new bridge is six lanes or four depends heavily on whether the United Boulevard extension as part of a planned North Fraser Perimeter Road is built, Hardie said.
The project is controversial in New Westminster, where some residents fear worsened congestion and other local impacts.
Hardie said the extra two lanes on a six-lane span would only be needed to connect the North Fraser Perimeter Road – if it is built – to the South Fraser Perimeter Road now under construction.
TransLink expects to shed more light on its plans for the United Boulevard extension at an open house Thursday evening.
A six-lane new bridge is expected to cost on the order of $1 billion.
Hardie was unable to provide an estimate of how much might be saved by making it four lanes instead.
Nor could he say what the next steps in replacing the Pattullo would be or when they might come.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts backs TransLink’s decision to build a new bridge.
“That has been the preference by the city due to the age and structure of the bridge,” Watts said. “It makes no sense to spend millions refurbishing it only to have to replace it down the road.”
TransLink had been poised to begin public consultations on the new bridge design last September, but put those on hold after requests from Victoria to review the alternatives. No new dates have been scheduled so far.
TransLink has closed the centre lanes of the bridge each night since 2005 to reduce the risk of head-on crashes.
A series of studies have tackled the problem of the bridge’s safety for nearly a decade.
An ICBC study in 2002 concluded motorists drive the bridge too fast and recommended using photo radar cameras to ticket speeders, an option later ruled out by the province.
It also raised options like converting to three lanes or adding a thin median barrier.
Banning trucks from the bridge has been raised before, but TransLink has always said the Pattullo must move goods.