Commuters can brace for a year and a half of worsened congestion starting next spring when TransLink closes half the lanes of the Pattullo Bridge for major repairs and shuts down the entire crossing at night and on weekends.
For 18 months likely beginning next April, the already heavily congested bridge will be reduced from four lanes to two on weekdays – one in each direction – and heavy trucks will be banned, along with cyclists and pedestrians.
TransLink infrastructure management and engineering vice-president Fred Cummings acknowledged it will mean major disruptions for commuters and the congestion there will spill over to other routes as motorists avoid the Pattullo.
“It looks like it’s going to add, depending on the time of day, anywhere from five to 15 minutes at the minimum to people’s travel time if they try to go across the Pattullo on a weekday,” he said. “It’s also going to have impacts on the other crossings as far to the west as the Alex Fraser and possibly the Massey Tunnel as well.”
But he said the work must go ahead.
The 78-year-old bridge needs a $100-million deck rehabilitation and a seismic upgrade, including the addition of seismic bearings.
It’s currently in danger of failing from a moderate earthquake, ship collision or river erosion.
The Pattullo currently serves as the free alternative to the tolled Port Mann Bridge, carrying 75,000 vehicles a day.
But critics say that won’t be a reasonable option for people who refuse to pay the $3 Port Mann tolls during the Pattullo construction delays and closures.
B.C. Trucking Association president and CEO Louise Yako is urging the province to give at least trucks a break on tolls at the Port Mann to encourage them to use that crossing, rather than disrupting traffic further by diverting south to the Alex Fraser or Massey Tunnel to avoid tolls.
“They’re forcing trucks off of the Pattullo Bridge,” Yako said. “Hopefully there will be some recognition of that with a reduction of tolls on the Port Mann Bridge. It’s a lovely facility, it’s got the capacity and it’s being under-utilized by trucks today.”
She said toll relief would “encourage traffic to flow in the most rational way it can.”
Business leaders in both Surrey and New Westminster also urged the province last December to consider toll relief during the Pattullo work.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté agreed relaxed tolls would be helpful.
“Anything that can make using the Port Mann Bridge a more attractive option in terms of the tolling policy could assist,” he said. “Since they put the tolls in place, we’ve seen a significant shift in traffic to the Pattullo Bridge.”
A transportation ministry spokesperson said the Pattullo work is a year away and the government has no plans at this point to reduce tolls on the Port Mann.
Cummings said TransLink considered closing the bridge in an effort to get the work done much faster – perhaps in just a few months in the summer – but ruled it out after determining it would take a complete closure of eight to nine months.
“It just seemed impractical and the congestion would be just unbearable.”
Keeping the bridge partly open on weekdays will help minimize business impacts, he said, while balancing safety and traffic concerns.
The exact duration of the project will depend on how construction goes, what’s discovered during rehabilitation and the weather.
The decision to give nearly a year of advance warning is so people have as much time as possible to decide how they’ll respond, he said.
Cummings said the rehabilitation and seismic upgrades are required, even if the Metro Vancouver referendum on an extra 0.5 per cent sales tax for transit is approved, enabling plans to proceed for the replacement of the Pattullo with a $1-billion new bridge within seven to 10 years.
“Even if we had a decision yesterday on a solution for the replacement of the bridge this work would still go ahead.”
The Pattullo Bridge is 78 years old and needs $100 million of rehabilitation work even though there are also plans in the works to rebuild it at the cost of $1 billion. Black Press file photo.