The provincial government says it’s “moving forward” with the construction of a Pattullo Bridge replacement, estimated to cost $1.377 billion.
The project will be “delivered solely by the province,” according to a release.
Premier John Horgan made the announcement in New Westminster this morning, joined by Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson.
“This is an essential transportation link that British Columbians rely on, and it’s our job to make sure it’s safe and gets people moving better,” Horgan said in a release. “Replacing the Pattullo Bridge will help people get home to their families quickly and safely, while creating good jobs for local workers.”
The project, expected to open to traffic in 2023, includes a new four-lane Pattullo Bridge that will be located upstream of the existing one, network connections in Surrey and New Westminster, and the removal of the existing bridge.
The province also says there will be “smoother connections” on and off the new bridge, with new direct road connections between the bridge and East Columbia Street in New Westminster, and a new direct off-ramp from the bridge to westbound Highway 17 in Surrey.
According to the province, the bridge will be built to “modern safety standards” with a centre safety median barrier and wider lanes to accommodate both passenger and commercial vehicles.
It will also have walking and cycling lanes, separate from traffic, the government says.
TransLink says the province taking on the costs of the new project won’t free it up to spend money elsewhere.
“It will lessen the debt load TransLink would’ve had to take on to deliver the new bridge,” explained TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drews, noting that in earlier plans, tolls would have recouped the transit authority’s contribution.
TransLink will continue to operate the existing bridge, until such time that it is decommissioned, Drews added.
Shortly after the announcement, the Surrey Board of Trade issued a release saying it is “pleased” with the plan.
“However, the Surrey Board of Trade asks the B.C. government to re-consider an opening of four lanes to six lanes to accommodate certain population growth in the region,” said Anita Huberman, CEO of SBOT. “We must prepare for transportation infrastructure for future population growth.”
In 2013, the cities of Surrey and New Westminster had a public disagreement regarding how many lanes the bridge should have.
Surrey sought six, while New Westminster wanted it to remain a four-lane crossing.
New Westminster councillors argued the roads in that city couldn’t support increased traffic and that road infrastructure was quite primitive, with no capacity to expand aside from tunnelling. But Surrey councillors said the increasing population in the city and region called for a larger bridge.
In its’ 10-year vision, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation landed on four.
After Friday’s announcement, Mayor Linda Hepner said is “happy to see the Pattullo Bridge is out of the gate,” adding “I’m never walking the old one again.”
“Hopefully it will be expandable to six lanes in the future,” said Hepner. “We made a deal with New Westminster to settle for four… on the basis that it would be expandable.”
The province says it will.
But, Hepner noted, the context of the conversation changed when the NDP government removed bridge tolls last year.
“With the absence of tolls on the other bridges, I’m more comfortable that in the short term, a new four-lane bridge will serve us,” she elaborated. “With those other mobility options in play, like the LRT, our cross-community connections will be better and even as we grow, we may not see as many back and forth trips on the bridge.”
Hepner added: “I think our residents will be happy.”
Minister Trevana said in a release that the government is “making sure all people who use the bridge can benefit from a safer crossing and easier connections into New Westminster and Surrey, whether by walking, driving or cycling.”
Minister Robinson said the replacement will solve “one of the region’s biggest transportation problems.”
Once complete, the new crossing will be owned, operated and maintained by the Government of British Columbia.
The request for qualifications (RFQ) phase of a competitive procurement process is to be launched later this spring, with start of construction in summer 2019.
The structure is 80 years old and the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation has been awaiting a funding commitment from the provincial government.
On the Pattullo’s 80th birthday last November, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said the region deserves this infrastructure improvement and in order to meet the timeline for replacement, construction and provincial funding decisions need to be made immediately.
Initially, the premise was that tolls would help pay for the replacement bridge. The NDP have since eliminated tolls, leaving uncertainty around how the new crossing will be funded.
“We have an expectation for the province to fund (the bridge),” Hepner said last November. “Clearly mobility pricing will also play into options. For procurement to advance, we need that provincial decision.”
Last July, Hepner cut her head open during a tour of the Pattullo that aimed to highlight the crossing’s deterioration.
Joking that she “took one for the team,” Hepner said it was “critical funding is secured” by the end of 2017 in order to have a replacement by 2023.
“There could not be a better message that I took one for the team to show that this bridge needs to be replaced,” said Hepner of her tumble at the time.
The crossing was constructed on Nov. 15, 1937.