Lane closures on the Pattullo Bridge for the first day of major deck repairs Monday sent thousands of drivers to seek alternate routes, including the already congested Alex Fraser Bridge.
Traffic on the Pattullo, which was reduced to one lane in each direction, was down 40 per cent during the Monday morning rush hour, with only 17,300 vehicles tallied between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. compared with 30,000 on a typical Monday at this time of year, according to Surrey’s traffic division. The bridge links Surrey and New Westminster.
The partial shutdown, which will remain in effect until October, is expected to put more pressure on three other crossings over the Fraser River — the Alex Fraser, the tolled Port Mann Bridge and the George Massey Tunnel — which together draw an estimated 300,000 vehicles daily. The Pattullo usually sees about 78,000 vehicles per day.
“They’ve only got so many options don’t they?” Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said. “Any time a vital piece of infrastructure goes down, it’s bound to cause disruption. That’s the cost of safety. It should be a new bridge.”
TransLink, which owns the Pattullo Bridge, has been forced to repair the nearly 80-year-old crossing while it waits for funding to build a new one. The $25-million rehabilitation includes major work on the deck, including the bearings, approaches, structural foundation and timber piles, to make it structurally sound.
The transit authority had warned commuters to consider taking transit, cycling, carpooling or find alternative routes while the bridge deck was being repaired, noting there would likely be increased congestion and delays during construction.
The bridge will have only one lane open in each direction except for two nights a week and one weekend a month, when it will be closed to all vehicle traffic. Bicycles and pedestrians will still have access to the bridge during the closures.
B.C.’s transportation ministry, which owns the Alex Fraser Bridge and George Massey Tunnel, said there was no evidence traffic had increased in the Massey Tunnel but there was a significant uptick in traffic on the Alex Fraser.
An email from spokeswoman Trish Rorison said the ministry didn’t expect to have specific numbers until Tuesday, but “we are seeing an increase in volumes on the Alex Fraser with this work underway.”
B.C.’s Transportation Minister Todd Stone said on Friday the province is considering strategies to manage traffic around the Alex Fraser, which has been experiencing increased congestion, especially around Annacis Island.
The ministry has been “pulling together a comprehensive operational plan” ahead of the Pattullo rehabilitation work, according to the email from Rorison, which includes a dedicated traffic diversion monitoring team as well as more cameras to monitor congestion, and portable message signs to let people know what’s going on.
The ministry will also add more tow trucks to to better respond to incidents and remove vehicles that break down as well increase frequency of highway patrols to monitor congestion, incidents and control traffic.
Stone noted longer term options include putting in new interchanges at Sunbury and Nordel Way, which would be costly but would help address the congestion.
“We’re looking at the entire road network to see if there isn’t a better way to flow traffic around the Alex Fraser Bridge,” Stone said, adding the province has set aside money for the upgrades but will require federal support. “At certain times of day there’s a growing challenge around congestion.”
Meanwhile, Stone urged commuters to consider using the tolled Port Mann Bridge as an alternative while the Pattullo is being repaired. However, he insisted the province has no plans to lift the tolls on the Port Mann while the rehabilitation work is underway, saying that revenue is needed to pay off the crossing.
“Give Port Mann a shot,” he said.
Some drivers heeded his advice, with another 3,000 vehicles using the tolled crossing Monday morning, bringing the total rush-hour traffic to about 28,000 from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Transportation Investment Corp., which maintains the bridge for the province. That figure is typical of a summer weekday in June or July, said TI Corp. spokesman Greg Johnson, who added that nice weather often gets people out driving more.
“We did see new drivers trying out the Port Mann today. It looked like it was a busy morning but traffic was free-flowing and there weren’t any incidents,” Johnson said, adding he expects the traffic to fluctuate as drivers figure out the best option for their commute.
“What we do expect is drivers are going to take some time and choose … the pendulum is going to swing back and forth probably for a couple of weeks before they choose their preferred (route).”