COLUMN: Bridge fix a stopgap measure

Longterm vision required for the Pattullo Bridge, writes PAN columnist Frank Bucholtz.

On Thursday, May 28, TransLink announced that the Pattullo Bridge would be closed for about a year and a half, starting in mid-2016.

The closure is not a 24-hour-a-day closure – but it’s close to it.

Trucks will be banned completely from the bridge. It will be down to one lane each way during the day, and it will be closed every night and every weekend.

This closure is being done because TransLink wants to spend $100 million to shore up the decaying bridge.

The repairs are expected to allow it to last until it is replaced by a new toll bridge, which will almost certainly be built, no matter what voters think of its plan to collect an extra .05 per cent in sales tax.

TransLink states that it is a vital traffic artery, and must be refurbished, even to stay open for a temporary period.

It is expected to take eight years to replace it, says Fred Cummings of TransLink.

Its original life span was 50 years – it is now 28 years past that “best before” date.

The announcement’s timing was curious. Replacing the bridge is part of the transportation plan that most mayors approved. The voting deadline for the sales-tax proposal, to pay for that plan, was last Friday – the day after the announcement.

Some people have suggested that the $100 million would be best put aside for the new bridge, and the Pattullo should simply be closed. It sounds like a radical idea, but the alternative – the tolled Port Mann bridge – is in place and badly underutilized.

The political problem, of course, is the tolls.

Many people have switched to the Pattullo because of the tolls. There is no question that a large number of truckers use the Pattullo because of tolls.

The Pattullo was promised as a free alternative by then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon, when the Port Mann project was announced.

Does the Pattullo need to stay in place simply to keep a political promise?

It will ultimately be up to the BC Liberal government if it wants to reduce tolls on the Port Mann, and it is entirely possible that it is holding that plan in reserve, waiting for the next provincial election. However, a reduction to $2-a-crossing in time for the Pattullo closure would be very popular.

It seems best to do things in this order.

1. Await the results of the transit referendum. In the meantime, do not agree to a contract for the Pattullo work.

2. Ask the province to reduce the Port Mann tolls, at least while the Pattullo is restricted.

3. Make a decision on whether or not to close the Pattullo completely for repairs, or to simply demolish it. If demolition is the choice, get started on it as soon as the Highway 1 project is finished.

4. Build a new Pattullo Bridge. Keep the name, which is historic. The bridge is the only public structure in B.C. commemorating Premier T.D. Pattullo, who was premier during the depth of the Depression years. The original bridge was part of his plan to create more jobs at that time.

5. Look more closely at a tolling and road pricing system throughout the region, so that the burden of building new infrastructure and maintaining what we have is spread evenly around the region.

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

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