Thursday, June 14, 2012

TransLink's Pattullo Corner

Here is a very interesting document from TransLink, summarizing the past estimates on the possibility of refurbishing the Pattullo.

From this report, I learned:
  • TransLink took over responsibility of the Pattullo in 1999 and since then has commissioned a number of studies on the bridge - which are summarized in this report.
  • The most important issues with the bridge (and I think most people will agree with these) are:
    • pedestrian and bicycle safety (there is no barrier between traffic and the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is too narrow)
    • narrow lane widths for traffic and excessive traffic speeds, high volumes of heavy trucks
    • structural integrity of the bridge
  • Refurbishing the bridge would cost about $200M (I'm rounding up from the figures in the report) and it is possible. It would extend the life of the bridge by 50 years (see pg. 15 of the report).
  • Traffic impacts would be large during a refurb, which would take about 2 years.
  • The existing bridge is too narrow for 4 lanes, so a refurb would be to a 3-lane-with-counterflow. Sidewalks could be made wider by cantilevering them off the bridge, as was done for the Lion's Gate.
  • 4- and 6- lane replacements are considered in the report, and these options start talking about connecting the Pattullo to the SFPR:
"A new six lane bridge will provide opportunities to improve the connectivity [...] to both the North Fraser Perimeter Road and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The additional lane in each direction [...] will provide improved operations across the river, especially for large trucks travelling [...] to / from the regionally significant Perimeter Roads."
  • In terms of financing the bridge,
"Toll revenues are likely adequate to service the level of debt required to finance the proposed expenditures (for a six lane replacement structure)". [emphasis mine]
  • A closure analysis was performed in 2007 (see pg. 13 of the report), where they tested the impacts of closing the bridge to trucks:
"The results indicated relatively small and effectively unnoticeable changes in truck volumes over most of the network; the largest changes were at the approaches to the Alex Fraser and Port Mann Bridges, with two-way diversions of 180 and 250 trucks per hour, respectively".

[note: these numbers seem too large to me. Current truck traffic over the Pattullo is about 3000 trucks/day, or 300 trucks/hour over a 10 hour workday. Diverting these evenly over the two other bridges gives 150 trucks/hour on each - smaller than the report indicates.]

So, it's clear to me after reading this report, that a refurb to a 3-lane structure with counterflow lane and adequate bike/ped facilities, with 50 year lifespan is possible, and will cost $200M. It's also pretty clear that TransLink has no way to pay for this as it would be difficult to toll a refurbished bridge without having a coherent regional tolling strategy. Closing the Pattullo to trucks would divert traffic to the new Mega Mann, which should be able to handle the extra trucks, although the trucking industry would not like the detour. A refurb operation, however, would have impacts on the traffic during the 2-year construction period.

The initial decision for a 6-lane replacement was made in 2008, and was likely driven more by the "well, if we're gonna replace it, might as well widen it" mentality than by any overall planning considerations. However, the motivation to stick with this decision today is that a 6-lane replacement gives connections to the SFPR (for trucks) - and hence "benefit" - and, more importantly, that 6 lanes will give sufficient toll revenues to pay for the financing.

Translink is flat broke. It doesn't have $200M to spend on a refurb. It certainly doesn't have another $800M to give to Surrey for transit to sweeten the deal. The only way it has to fix the Pattullo is to build big - to attract traffic - and toll. The new Pattullo would look like the Golden Ears bridge - a P3 with tolls, and the public left holding the bag if the traffic doesn't show up.

How do we get TransLink out of this corner?

1 comment:

  1. A six to eight lane bridge would be ideal. A wider bridge will be safer and more reliable than a four lane bridge.

    While tolls are unfortunate, they are needed for this replacement. Ideally the bridge should connect to an expanded Columbia and McBride. The speed limit on McBride should be raised and concrete walls can be put up to help deal with the increased noise a widened McBride will bring. Using some land from Queens Park maybe necessary, but the park will largely be unaffected. On and off ramps will be required at 8th avenue.

    In the short term, a tunnel portal should be constructed where McBride currently bends to meet up with tenth avenue. The tunnel of course, leading to Highway 1. This will alleviate any concerns of under-capacity as vehicles from highway 1 can now use McBride to access Surrey. (As an aside, renaming McBride to King George will help with way-finding)

    For Columbia, returning it to a four lane road through downtown and removing the parking will allow the capacity needed to sustain the volumes coming off the bridge and better connect it to the Queensboro. Alternatively, Royal can be used. In the long run, the parkade can be torn down and a proper freeway can be built to help complete the NFPR.

    The large empty lot in front of City Hall can be used to help widen Royal for a seamless interchange with the newly renamed King George Highway. Again, expropriation of some homes may be necessary to allow for access.

    In the other direction, a widened Columbia using the large right of way will result in better connectivity with surrounding communities. Expropriating some businesses and houses will allow a widened Brunette to be built as well. Again, a concrete barrier can be erected to drown out the noise an expanded Columbia with higher speed limits will bring. Plants like the ones used at Commercial Station will help to appease residents complaining that the wall is ugly.

    To help with increased traffic volumes on 10th Avenue, 10th avenue should have four lanes all the way from McBride to 20th Street. In the long term, expropriating some houses on the New Westminster side will be necessary to allow 10th to continue moving traffic safely and efficiently from one side of town to the other.

    Naturally, some resistance is to be expected from New Westminster City Hall, so the province will likely have to take over many of these projects for the sake of creating a liveable region.

    I'm glad to see this project going ahead and I look forward to truly living in a world class city once these projects are completed!