Transportation Minister Todd Stone says the City of New Westminster's call for tolls on a rebuilt Pattullo Bridge may be problematic.
New Westminster council came out Wednesday morning in in favour of replacing the aging bridge with a new four-lane replacement – but only if it's tolled to help control traffic volumes.
The minister was asked if that would violate the province's promise when it built the new tolled Port Mann Bridge that the Pattullo would act as the free alternative.
"If it was to be tolled, that would seem to be contradictory to the provincial tolling policy, which does provide for a free alternative to new tolled structures," Stone told reporters in Victoria.
Stone has committed to review the government's tolling policy and it's not yet clear if that might open up options for universal bridge tolling advanced by some Metro mayors.
He said the province is urging the federal government to contribute to the Pattullo replacement – arguing it's of national significance due to its role in goods movement – but added tolls could be a roadblock.
"The feds have not tended to invest in projects that end up having tolls on them."
Stone was non-committal on whether he backs New Westminster's preference for a $850-million four-lane Pattullo, Surrey's call for a $1.2-billion six-lane replacement or a refurbished existing Pattullo.
He said he expects Metro Vancouver mayors to make a Pattullo replacement recommendation to him as part of the regional transportation plan they are working on to underpin a referendum on new TransLink taxes.
"The City of New Westminster really has to come to the table with a clear plan on what they intend to do to decongest their own road network," Stone added.
"There's no point in building a new structure that would then just take motorists into a wall on the New Westminster side."
The province has offered one third of the cost of a new bridge, although New West Mayor Wayne Wright said the provincial grant should instead go for rapid transit in Surrey.
Wright said a larger untolled bridge would only increase New West traffic congestion, which he said is already up due to motorists avoiding the tolls at the Port Mann.
"There is a need to respect New Westminster's established urban and historic context in the design of any new facilities," Wright said.
"Freeway-style on- and off-ramps are not an option in New Westminster's highly urbanized context. It would be impossible. We have no room without restructuring neighbourhoods and streets."
New West is also asking the province to connect the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) with the Port Mann Bridge. Currently, traffic destined for Burnaby, Vancouver or Coquitlam must go 21 kilometres out its way to the 176 Street interchange to connect to Highway 1 and the Port Mann.
Having a South Fraser Perimeter Road direct link to the Port Mann would "promote regional truck traffic traveling where investments have already been made," said Wright.
New West Coun. Jonathan Coté said paying an extra $350 million to build a six-lane bridge makes no sense, especially if it were tolled, as studies indicate a toll would cut daily traffic from 75,000 to 50,000 crossings.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts reiterated her city's support for a six-lane bridge and said tolls on the Pattullo can only come as part of a regional tolling scheme.
"I do not support tolling individual pieces of infrastructure," Watts said. "There needs to be a fair and equitable system put in place at a low rate."
New Westminster council still likes the idea of a new bridge on a different alignment between North Surrey and Coquitlam's United Boulevard industrial area, which would see much traffic bypass New West, along with retaining a refurbished two- or three-lane Pattullo.
– with files from Grant Granger, Tom Fletcher