What now for the Pattullo Bridge?

The Pattullo Bridge needs replacing. Built 80 years ago but designed to last 50 years, it desperately needs replacing. River scour is causing foundation issues. The reinforcing steel is corroding. The concrete is degrading. The lanes are narrow and dangerous. It needs to go.

TransLink has a plan for replacing it, with a new bridge planned to open in 2023. In 2014 New Westminster city council did a road tour around to other councils in Metro Vancouver to push for a four-lane tolled bridge — at the time Surrey wanted a six-lane bridge. Surrey agreed that a four-lane bridge would do, as long as it could be easily expanded to six lanes should vehicular traffic volumes dictate it.

In 2016 Surrey, New Westminster, and TransLink agreed that the new Pattullo would be tolled. This is important, as the toll would help to shape traffic patterns (along with the tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, and on the future Massey Tunnel replacement bridge) and, more importantly, pay off roughly half of the cost of building the bridge.

And then a couple of days ago the BC Liberals said they’d cap bridge tolls at $500 per year. The BC NDP one-upped them, saying they would completely eliminate tolls.

So what does this mean for the Pattullo Bridge replacement? All of a sudden TransLink has lost about $500 million in toll revenue that they were planning on using to pay off their portion of the construction of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. Where does that money come from? The bridge needs to be replaced, that can’t be put off. But an organization with an operations budget of around $1.6 billion can’t magically pull $500 million out of a hat. Do they have to cut operational funding, which means cuts in service? Do they cut other capital projects they were planning, like the Surrey LRT or the Broadway SkyTrain line? Do they raise fares?

All of a sudden the two largest political parties in BC have thrown this planning into disarray. They’ve shown that not only are they willing to ignore the Mayors Council and TransLink, who have worked hard over the past five years to come up with plans to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver despite a hostile provincial government, they’re also willing to ignore decades of studies in transportation planning that show that congestion charges or mobility pricing, when instituted in conjunction with increases in public transit funding and availability, are the best way to fight congestion. Instead they’ve both gone with populist policies that will only serve to get them elected, and will set the region backwards five to ten years.

The BC Liberals and the BC NDP need to tell New Westminster and Surrey how the new Pattullo Bridge will be paid for, and they need to tell us before we all vote on May 9.

Trudeau announces new Kinder Morgan route, Broadway SkyTrain

Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Kinder Morgan is applying for a re-route of their TransMountain pipeline that currently runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. He also announced conditional federal funding for an expanded SkyTrain line to be run in a tunnel under Broadway in Vancouver.

“We have heard criticisms over the past few days since announcing the approval of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline, specificially concerning the increase in oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet and tunnelling through Burnaby Mountain. We remain committed to acting in the best interests of Canada, and remain committed to rigorous environmental protections for our lands and waters.

“We have also received applications for federal funding to expand Vancouver’s SkyTrain system to service the Broadway corridor. This region of Vancouver is an important one, not just for the City of Vancouver, but for all of Metro Vancouver. It is an important commercial district, it is an important healthcare district, and students and employees of the largest university in Western Canada travel it every day. Congestion along this corridor causes pollution and reduces the quality of life of everybody who travels it. Easing this congestion with proven SkyTrain technology will help everybody.

“These reasons are why I’m announcing conditional federal funding of a bored tunnel under Broadway that will contain both SkyTrain and the re-routed Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline.”

The SkyTrain will run from Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station to Alma Street, where it will terminate at a bus loop. The TransMountain pipeline will be tunnelled under Highway One to Broadway, under Broadway to Alma, then curve north to a new marine delivery terminal at Jericho Beach.

“By building a new marine delivery terminal at Jericho,” Trudeau said, “tankers will avoid the busy Burrard Inlet and Lions Gate Bridge crossing. This terminal will also be located closer to the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station — which I re-opened, you’re welcome — for quicker response to any emergencies.”

“Mayor Corrigan should also be pleased that the pipeline will no longer be going under Burnaby Mountain and that tankers will no longer be sailing via the environmentally significant Burrard Inlet.”

“We have listened to the concerns of Mayors Robertson and Corrigan. We have listened to the concerns of the First Nations. We have listened to the concerns of all citizens of Canada, and we have acted accordingly.”

“We hope they’re happy now,” said Trudeau.

Changes are coming to New Westminster’s community shuttle routes!

If you remember back to October 2015 you’ll remember that TransLink proposed some changes to New Westminster’s community shuttle routes. I was largely in favour of the changes, and a couple of people suggested modifications to the C9 route so that the current C3 stop on Jameison Court wouldn’t be lost.

Good news! TransLink released the Transit Network Consultation report today, and the New Westminster community shuttle routes will be changed to match those modifications, and the C9 route will be re-routed to include the Jameison Court stop!

This is great news. Transit service to Victoria Hill will hopefully be more consistent and reliable. Transit service linking Royal Square Mall and Royal City Centre / Uptown is restored. Jameison Court’s stop isn’t removed, although it looks like the C9’s frequency of service isn’t being increased from it’s currently hourly service, so this is probably a net loss of service to that stop.

All told this looks like a pretty decent win for transit service in New Westminster.

Is SkyTrain outdated?

Last week Global News trotted out a stinker of a news article talking about how SkyTrain technology is outdated and needs to be replaced. They implied that recent system disruptions are an indication of how outdated and unreliable the technology is, and that we’re tied to Bombardier to supply all of the technology in the future, even though it’s outdated and unreliable.

They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s look at the latest service disruption, which was caused by a damaged power collector on one of the trains. The power collector was damaged by a piece of rail that was stored along the track (standard practice in the rail industry) that shifted due to vibrations of trains passing by. What does a replacement rail have to do with outdated technology? Nothing.

How about the service disruption in May? That one was caused by a bird’s nest catching on fire and damaging communications cables. What does a bird’s nest have to do with outdated technology? Nothing.

How about the service disruption in July 2014? That one was caused by an electrical contractor flipping the wrong switch on an electrical panel. Again, nothing to do with outdated technology.

And as for the assertion that SkyTrain is built on outdated technology? That’s bollocks as well.. Bombardier didn’t stop innovating in 1985, and TransLink has been receiving new SkyTrain rolling stock since then. Bombardier isn’t the only supplier of LIM technology, so the idea that we’re somehow tied to Bombardier is wrong. Bombardier is supplying new SkyTrain technology to Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh, so the idea that Bombardier SkyTrain technology is only used in Vancouver is wrong.

I have to agree with Peter Fassbender when he said that “we have a system that was built to a certain standard” and that “you have to be able to take the next generation of technology and integrate it into an existing system.” Nothing is stopping any of the Chinese or Japanese LIM companies from bidding on new SkyTrain projects. We have a rail standard, we have a platform standard, we have a LIM rail standard, and as long as the manufacturer adheres to those standards, anybody can deliver a train that can run on the existing SkyTrain lines. Nothing is forcing TransLink to use Bombardier.

Are some of the SkyTrain components outdated? Yes, and that’s why TransLink is refurbishing the old Mark I SkyTrains. Is SkyTrain technology outdated? No. Is TransLink locked to Bombardier? No. Is the SkyTrain system a “mistake” or a “boutique system”? No to both.

Proposed changes to New Westminster community shuttle routes

TransLink is blowing up New Westminster’s community shuttle routes. Or, at least, they’re proposing it. Here, in a nutshell, are their proposals:

  • Discontinue the C3 and C8 routes that service Quayside Drive, Victoria Hill, and southern Sapperton, replacing them with a “New J” route that would service Quayside Drive and Victoria Hill.
  • Discontinue the C4 route that services Downtown, Queens Park, and Uptown, replacing it with a “New H” route that services Downtown, Queens Park, Uptown, and parts of Sapperton and Glenbrook North.
  • Reroute the C9 to service Richmond Street.

Here’s why this is awesome:

  • The C3 is always busy during the morning rush hour. It picks up people from Sapperton before hitting Victoria Hill. Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that this route frequently leaves people behind in Victoria Hill. Starting the “New J” route in Victoria Hill means it starts with an empty bus, so people won’t get left behind.
  • The C3 is always busy during the evening rush hour. When it leaves from New Westminster SkyTrain Station it’s almost always full, so there’s no room to pick people up at the Columbia SkyTrain Station. With only Victoria Hill on its drop-off route, this means fewer pass-ups.
  • The rerouting of the 154 in 2013 led to a less direct route for seniors between the Royal Square Mall and Uptown. Adding the “New H” route directly addresses this, and restores that vital connection.
  • There are no more bus routes on McBride Boulevard, which is always rammed with people trying to get to the Pattullo Bridge. This means improved reliability, as buses won’t get caught in traffic as often.
  • Combining the C8 and part of the C3 into one route makes sense. Yes, the new route is one between residential areas, which isn’t typically good for routes as they end up being under-used, but putting a SkyTrain station in the middle changes things. Both halves of the route can be full towards the SkyTrain station in the morning, and full away from the SkyTrain station in the evening, and everybody’s happy. I hope that the frequency of service won’t change, as both routes are currently at a cadence of every 15 minutes during rush hour.

These proposals aren’t set in stone, mind you. TransLink is asking for feedback on this and other changes, so go look at the proposals and speak your mind before November 6!