Future of Pattullo Bridge Uncertain

TransLink is assessing whether the 75-year-old Pattullo Bridge can be rehabilitated and brought up to seismic standards, as well as what to do if that’s not possible.

Bob Paddon, executive vice-president, strategic planning, said TransLink should know in a few months if it’s possible to upgrade the bridge, which was cited in a 2007 report as being “vulnerable to collapse even under moderate earthquakes.”

If it can be upgraded, he said, a ballpark estimate of the cost could be as much as $150 million over the next 10 years, depending on what needs to be done.

A TransLink report suggests the bridge, opened in November 1937, is nearing the end of its life because of issues related to structure, seismic condition, roadway safety and riverbed scour of the foundations.

TransLink already spends $3 million per year maintaining and monitoring the span, which links Surrey with New Westminster over the Fraser River.
“The bridge is safe and we continue to monitor it,” Paddon said, but added that it “is not meeting today’s seismic standard.

“There are other facilities and structures in the Lower Mainland facing this same situation and we’re very mindful of this. It’s our facility, our bridge, and we have liabilities.

“In the meantime we need to take steps to ensure we’re managing the potential risks.”

The assessment comes as TransLink is looking at options to replace the four-lane bridge by 2020.

If it can be rehabilitated, the bridge should be seismically stable for about 30 years, but would have to be converted into three lanes because the existing four lanes are now too narrow for today’s standards.

If it cannot be fixed, however, TransLink will consider its options, including seeking agreement on, and funding for, a new bridge or closing the existing one.

Up to $7 million has been set aside in TransLink’s 2013 base plan for studies related to the existing and future Pattullo Bridge, including rehabilitation assessment, conceptual design work, detailed traffic analysis, and stakeholder and public consultation.

“We have to (do the) work sooner rather than later,” Paddon said, noting the design and construction of a new bridge would take eight years. “As the structure ages and there’s more users, the more vulnerable it is to seismic (issues).

“Closure is a possibility.”

Paddon noted the bridge is an important part of Metro Vancouver’s transportation infrastructure. With 76,000 crossings each day, it is already operating at capacity. It handles about 20 per cent of the traffic passing over the Fraser River.

The bridge has an average of 138 collisions per year.

TransLink is negotiating with Surrey and New Westminster about the bridge, which had been slated for a six-lane $1-billion replacement.

New Westminster has balked at expanding the size of the crossing, saying it would just bring more trucks into the city and create more gridlock on Columbia Street.

Mayor Wayne Wright said his city has also held discussions with neighbouring Burnaby and plans to meet with Surrey to come up with an acceptable option. He noted Port Mann Bridge is being replaced after 30 years, yet the Pattullo has long passed its 50-year expiry date.

Community groups on both sides of the bridge have also joined the fray, arguing TransLink should put more money toward transit instead of building a new bridge.