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Province plans Port Mann twinning, toll

Opponents express concerns about noise and pollution

By Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter

Premier Gordon Campbell unveiled an ambitious $3-billion transportation plan Tuesday that includes a twinned Port Mann Bridge - drivers may have to pay $2.50 to cross it - an expansion of Highway 1 from Langley to Vancouver and a replacement for the congested swing bridges that link Port Coquitlam and Pitt Meadows.

"Our existing bridges and highways in the Lower Mainland are well beyond their designated capacities," Campbell said in a news release.

"The Port Mann Bridge is now congested for 13 hours a day and, on a bad day, it can take two hours to get from Burnaby to Langley.

"Truck traffic is being forced on to residential streets in Delta and Surrey that were never designed to carry them. Volume on the Pitt River Bridge has tripled over the last 15 years. We know improvements are needed and we need to take action now."

A poll of Tri-Cities mayors, however, reveals some concerns.

"Council hasn't got a position on it," Coquitlam's Acting Mayor Louella Hollington said Tuesday.

"My position is that it's going to be, probably, a positive for some people in our community that have to commute over to Surrey, but for other people in our community, it's going to have a negative effect with all the noise from the increased traffic and the air pollution.

"But I understand also that the consultation that's coming up won't be if it's going to be done, but how it's going to be done, so I guess right now we'll be looking at how we can protect Coquitlam as much as we can."

Hollington said the proposed upgrades - all part of the province's Gateway Program, which is designed to improve the flow of goods and people - will create better access to industrial lands near King Edward Street, and that it's "imperative" that the planned North Fraser perimeter road goes ahead.

But she also said Maillardville residents will be particularly hard hit by an increase in traffic flowing over a twinned Port Mann Bridge, and that the province should have looked at alternatives to the bridge twinning and freeway expansion.

"The widening of the freeway is going to impact people in our community that live near there, live on the southern slope there in Maillardville, so I wish, personally, that they had come up with different solutions for the problem, but they don't seem to.

"They seem to want to repeat what they've always done in the past, and that is build more freeways and bridges, instead of thinking of creative ways to solve the problem."

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, meanwhile, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I have been concerned about past announcements of twinning the Port Mann Bridge," he said. "What I am encouraged about (now) is they're not just talking about twinning of the Port Mann Bridge, they're talking about what happens to the capacity once you twin the Port Mann Bridge.

"So it remains to be seen if, in fact, they're resolving the problems other than just saying 'Let's open the gates.' So I'm not nixing it, I'm not giving it the green light. I want to look at the details."

Trasolini said he's encouraged by provincial plans to build the twinned bridge to accommodate rapid transit in the future.

"If we don't do that, in five, 10 years, you will have the same problems as you have today because, of course, more cars will be on the road and it doesn't matter how many lanes you add, the roads are going to be choked up again, so potential for rapid transit expansion in those areas is the key."

As for proposed tolls of $2.50 per crossing, Trasolini said he's not surprised.

"Transportation investments are expensive and governments don't have those kinds of funds," he said. "The money would have to come out of some sort of taxation and I think that commuters, drivers, they do have to understand that it's expensive to build those infrastructures and tolls are a reality."

Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young is generally in favour of the Gateway Project, and said PoCo is focusing on a new Pitt River crossing, as well as completion of the North Fraser perimeter road linking Maple Ridge with New Westminster.

"We certainly welcome the upgrades to the Pitt River Bridge," he said, adding that plans include access to the future Fremont Connector in the Dominion Triangle.

Young also said it's "paramount" that the Pitt River crossing be upgraded before the Golden Ears Bridge linking Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to Surrey and Langley is built.

But he cautioned that more discussion around the future of land use in the Lower Mainland is needed, especially since the Gateway Program may encourage growth outside of the high-density areas the GVRD wants to contain it to.

A new task force of regional mayors put together by Delta Mayor Lois Jackson could provide a forum for those discussions, he said - as well as for further talks with the province.

Overall, Lower Mainland politicians are divided over the benefits and necessity of the massive Gateway Program.

Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster city councils have all gone on record saying they are opposed, while in Surrey, where the Port Mann twinning is largely viewed as overdue, Mayor Dianne Watts says she understands the need for tolls.

However, groups like the Vancouver-based Citizens Concerned with Highway Expansion and the Society Promoting Environmental Preservation (SPEC) are firmly opposed.

"He has unleashed a Frankenstein's monster on the Lower Mainland," SPEC transportation campaigner David Fields said of Campbell's announcement.

"What we have here is a twinning of a bridge and expansion of a highway that will only lead to more congestion, and it doesn't matter how the government spins it."

The province has made what appear to be concessions to Gateway Program opponents by adding what it calls "the largest investment in cycling infrastructure in the province's history and expansion of public transit across the Port Mann Bridge for the first time since 1986."

Fields, however, is not impressed.

"I think that the province has picked up some of the language of alternatives, but they're just using it to dress up their bad plan," he said, adding that SPEC intends to release its own report today.

The report will offer alternatives to congestion, in the form of rail use for long-distance freight transport and increased public transit, which Fields says would free up roads for short-distance truck traffic.

The province has already scheduled public consultation sessions for residents of various Lower Mainland communities to discuss the Gateway Program.

But Fields echoed Hollington by saying that the consultations are not about whether the project should go ahead, but how it should proceed.

"Even though the province is using the language of public consultation, they're not looking for real public consultation," he said. "They want the public to say what kinds of shrubs they want planted by the side of the highway."

Two public consultation sessions are planned for Coquitlam in April. The province says "pre-design consultation" will take place during 2006, and will deal with such topics as HOV priority, commercial lanes and the cycling network.

"Preliminary design consultation" will take place during 2007 and "detailed design consultation" will take place during 2008.

More information is available at www.gatewayprogram.bc.ca.

published on 02/01/2006





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