United Boulevard Extension: What’s next? (Part 2)

Can the North Fraser Perimeter Road, creating a four lane truck route through New Westminster even be built? Let’s examine the feasibility of the City’s mitigation wish list.

A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird
A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird

Today in part 2 of our series we ask the question: Can the North Fraser Perimeter Road, creating a four lane truck route through New Westminster even be built?

How will that work? Let’s examine the feasibility of the City’s mitigation wish list. A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road?

There have been mentions of stacking the roads – how does that fit with Provincial dangerous goods regulations? There’s a reason why dangerous goods aren’t allowed in the Massey Tunnel or Cassiar Connector.

There’s been talk of pressuring the railways to remove one of their tracks – that still only frees up one more lane of traffic, we’re still not up to four if we want to maintain access to the retail fronts along Front Street.

What about behind The Interurban and Keg, there isn’t physically enough room to put four lanes between the existing building and the railway tracks. Are they going to shave a corner off this newly restored historic building for a truck route?

All of these are questions that have to be answered in order to make the City’s dream mitigation a reality, and despite years of talking about the NFPR and Front Street with ample opportunity to address these challenges they all remain unanswered. And now we’re asking Translink to suddenly plan and fund this route as one singular project, with adequate public consultation, before the March federal deadline? Really?

2011 is going to be an important year for transportation in New Westminster; the City is updating their Master Transportation Plan, the blueprint for transportation in the City. It’s up to all of us to push the City to get off the fence on these issues. If we truly want a four lane truck route down Front Street, show us the plans on how it will work. How will they make it all fit or which businesses and residents are they willing to sacrifice to shoehorn the road in there? Or should we look at alternative ideas and end the road building paradigm? The time for vague hand waving is over, we need a solid plan on how we want to see transportation in our city evolve over the next decades, the politicians have to get off the fence and make their opinions known.

Getting out of the car mentality is hard, for 50 years this is how we’ve designed and built our cities. We’ve allowed developments where eventual transit service which must follow will be difficult and expensive. As oil prices rise, the idea of cheap living in the burbs will quickly evaporate. With climate change and peak oil the days of motordom are numbered. Even if the fabled electric car becomes a reality we’ve already seen the private car paradigm doesn’t scale. On a recent trip to Seattle it occurred to me, throughout my entire life, over 3 decades, any time I’ve been to Seattle, I-5 has always been under expansion and yet it’s still gridlock during rush hour. The simple reality is no city, anywhere, has ever built themselves out of congestion. And if we think we have the magic plan to do so, we’d be very rich selling it to cities around the world.

But what are the alternatives when it comes to the NFPR? Parallel to the NFPR are three alternative transportation corridors. The Fraser River. The rail lines. And Skytrain. Could the travel demand that Translink projects for the NFPR be satisfied by shifting some of the current and future demand towards this existing infrastructure at a savings of over over $1 billion dollars to the taxpayer?

Studies say, yes. A report on Short Sea Shipping has stated there is a good opportunity to reduce emissions and traffic by sending goods by barge. With the completion of the Evergreen Line, we’ll have the equivalent capacity of a 10 lane freeway between Coquitlam and New Westminster. And the Langley-Lougheed rapid bus the province has promised upon completion of the Port Mann Bridge again has the opportunity to remove a significant number of vehicles from the road at a much more modest cost.

The stumbling block in creating an integrated goods and people movement system is there is no single body charged with creating it. Fraser River issues are a matter for the Port Authority, Translink has admitted it’s a good idea but has no mandate to get involved. Rail transportation is a Federal issue and the domain of private railways. The NFPR and Evergreen Line are a Translink issues. The Gateway project and Highway 1 are a Provincial issue. Zoning on where we put sprawling, low-density developments and business parks are a municipal matter. There is no coordination in creating a unified development and transportation plan, and hence we have the chaos and missed opportunities we see today. In this sea of competing interests and jurisdictions its important that we have a clear vision of what works for our City and what doesn’t. Its up to us to champion a workable transportation system for our City while respecting the need to move people and goods throughout the region.

But the obvious conclusion from all of this is if New Westminster council truly believes in protecting New Westminster’s liveability and IF we’re committed to building the NFPR as one unified project, keeping a standalone UBE on life-support for the sake of some Federal dollars which are pennies in the full project price tag makes no sense. Let it go and let’s start making a real plan for the future.

We have to have the hard conversation; can we make a 4 lane truck highway fit down Front Street? If the answer is no, as I suspect it will be, the city must stop dancing on the fence about conditional support for the NFPR only if unrealistic criteria are met. Development in our downtown and waterfront have been held hostage for far too long, we either need plans on how the NFPR will fit in to downtown New Westminster or to put our foot down and say no thank you, but you’re welcome to take one of the several other modes of transportation our City is fortunate enough to have on offer.

Matthew Laird

Matthew Laird is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.


  1. If the NFPR can't fit along Front St why not put it down Royal Ave (right next to city hall).

    Seriously though, Royal is the only four lane road that connects Stewardson Way and East Columbia. It connects to the Pattullo interchange at McBride and it's already a designated truck route during the day. Fitting a four lane road down Front St seems impossible, especially when you get to the old railway bridge.

    It might be cheaper to mitigate the extra noise problem with a Royal Ave route than it would to fit a four lane road along Front St.

    1. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with you on this, but I used to live right on Royal. The issue I see is that Front Street is not a residential area, whereas Royal, for much of it, is. I also wonder about the Patullo Bridge and where that will end up. Right now, everyone funnels down Royal to get to the Patullo (because for whatever reason the on-ramp on Columbia is closed during rush hour. This has never made sense to me, to route the traffic past houses and apartments while the commercial route remains unused at the busiest time of day. It used to take longer for me to drive from the corner of 8th and Royal to my apartment at 6th and Royal than it did to get to that from my workplace near Brentwood Mall to 8th and Royal.

    2. Royal has been suggested, and I considered including that in the article but I didn't want to muddy the waters further. There are a few reasons why we've been painted in to a corner on using Royal.

      First, we're building a new elementary school and middle school right on Royal. There are peer reviewed studies showing childrens' proximity to major roads directly affects their development. So putting a major truck route right next to the schools might not be the best idea. Unfortunately I couldn't quickly find those papers in PubMed but I did find: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66E4GT20100

      As Jen has pointed out, Royal is and is becoming an even larger residential area. I'm not sure the residents would take kindly to suddenly ploughing a highway through their neighbourhood.

      And then there's the McBride hill up from Columbia, that's is a STEEP hill for a fully loaded truck. Both the noise to the new Victoria Hill development and the extra pollution from these trucks having to haul themselves up the hill won't help with the case to use Royal either.

      So again this goes back to a coordination issue. New Westminster (and partially the school board) has made land use decisions that box out certain options. Hence my thesis, once the paint dries let's see what other options we have to move people and goods in the region, because a 4 lane truck route through New Westminster, unless you're going to build a giant tunnel from Brunette to the Queensborough Bridge, simply can't fit in to the existing city fabric. However I dare the City and Translink to produce detailed designs to prove me wrong, a grey line on a map simply can't be considered a "plan."

      1. The City has had a traffic strategy for the last number of years of moving commuter traffic to the outskirts of our city, 10th Ave., Front St./Stewardson, etc. Royal feeds them back in to the centre. Also from Stewardson up to 8th Street is a pretty steep hill and would present serious truck issues (noise and safety).
        You're right about the truck traffic impacts to learning and child health, Matt.. I referenced a UBC study on the impacts of NOX and SOX a few years ago when petitioning the City to keep trucks off E. 8th Avenue. E. 8th Avenue is another serious hill with its own safety and noise issues.

        For years though the City has been talking about synchronizing the lights along Royal Avenue so that they keep traffic flowing (like the Green Wave in Coquitlam). It will be good when that finally happens.

      2. Jenarbo, Matt, Pat, Thanks for the feedback – This dialogue on the NFPR is good. However, I still see Royal Ave as the most logical route. Here's why (it's in two parts):

        A study on the NFPR done for the MoT in 1998 stated that it would be difficult to put 4 lanes of traffic on Front St. due to "railway and parking infrastructure". The report implied that Columbia St would have to be used as a "parallel route to share the traffic". Surely we can't let that happen.
        A City of New Westminster report done in 2008 on the Pattullo bridge corridor stated that bridge option 1/3 with a 2N connection strategy (Front St.) impacts Albert Crescent Park, makes it unlikely for the downtown to achieve Regional Town Centre status and only has merit if issues along Front St can be mitigated (but this may be difficult to achieve due to fiscal constraints). The Royal Ave route was considered efficient, promoted Major Road Network (MRN) elements for moving traffic through the City and supports business as access to/from the central business district. Royal was never intended to carry truck traffic, however, no access to Royal from Pattullo means more traffic on McBride and 8th Ave.

      3. Part 2 of Royal Ave

        The report went on to say we should maximize use of existing roadways before we build new capacity. Royal has capacity, Front St. does not. Not mentioned in the New West report is that Front St has a 40 to 50 m elevation difference at the bridge head. How do you get trucks up that incline?
        If Royal is used mitigation of the noise problem could be done with cut and cover and trenching. A cut and cover tunnel between 6th St and 2nd St would do a lot for noise control and would fix the problem of having a school right next to a busy open road. A tunnel like this would be about the same length as the Cassiar tunnel. Tipperary park could be extend and a pretty nice green space built. An added benefit of the trenching, if done properly, would be to reduce the grades at both ends of Royal. Without cut and cover the residential frontage on Royal is about 40%. With cut and cover the amount of residential frontage on Royal could be reduced to be 25%.

        1. Good points, Brent, but all they do is bring us back to the larger issue: Why?

          Even a cut-and-cover tunnel like that will cost an incrdible amount of money. There is 100 years of underground infrastructure through and crossing that route, there are buildings on both side, and there are still issues about moving dangerous goods through a tunnel under a residential area, and the amount or real estate required to make each end of Royal a "seamless" route.

          So the big question is why would we spending this much money to cut our City in half, only to move a traffic choke point to the end of the Queensborough bridge?

          This is another solution looking for a problem. Let's spend the hundreds of millions on building real transportaion infrastructure that serves the community.

          1. Pat is exactly right, the main question in this whole project is, why?

            Would a cut and cover Royal Ave trench meet our goals? What ARE our goals? Why do we have trucks criss-crossing the region to begin with? Why do we have business parks laid out so willy-nilly where we need to move things back and forth and back again? There's a general lack of planning for our entire region on residential, commercial and industrial lands. Low density business parks springing up in a little pocket here, a little pocket there. Farm land being paved over for development.

            We need Metro Vancouver and the Province to take some leadership, step back and have a discussion about regional growth planning. By doing so we'll likely save billions of dollars in unneeded infrastructure, keeping your and my taxes lower. It makes fiscal sense, unfortunately despite all their claims of being so, we don't have a provincial government that has much fiscal sense.

          2. I think the NFPR going through New West has been decided. It's entwined in the City community plan for downtown (available on the city web site). The debate is not why have a NFPR, its where will it go; how will it be mitigated. Our goals are: do nothing that impacts New West's regional city center role in the livable region strategic plan, do not add more road capacity, mitigate the effects to residence and small business.

            The Province and the Gateway Program are taking leadership and they are saying we need a NFPR and it will go thru New West. Blocking Gateway plans in Delta was a disaster. Delta now has a 4 lane, 80 kph highway, slicing through their Sunbury neighborhood.

            The downtown community plan shows the NFPR encapsulated from 3rd Ave to Elliot St. This would mean that dangerous goods are not being transported through New West. A cut and cover on Royal is possible. It will not cut our city in two – if done right it will give us a better connection between Downtown and Uptown.

          3. Brent,
            I think its fair to say that the NFPR through New Westminster will have been decided when it has been built. In the meantime there's a small question of a couple of billion dollars required to do the things you suggest (not bad suggestions, just financially unrealistic in an era of massive deficits).

            There were also some pretty final plans and even money to build freeways into downtown Vancouver, a project which was considered critical for the future of that City and our region at that time… and we all know where that ended up.

            So until some senior government ponies up lots of money and comes up with plans that can demonstrably make an improvement in the transportation for our City and region (remember such projects have failed miserably in most other places they have been tried) it would wise that residents and all taxpayers demand that other, more realistic solutions be explored using existing facilities. Our existing traffic problems should not be held hostage to poor planning and blinkered visions.

            I hope we haven't turned into a communist, centrally-planned road building state like you suggest.

  2. You raise some very good points Mr. Laird. I understand the city is in discussions with the railways about a possible encapsulation for the trains and trucks along Front Street. I agree there are serious ventilation issues with this encapsulation proposal and nobody knows how it will be funded. I understand the railway companies are not to happy with the city right now because of the city noise bylaw. City/Railway concern has also been raised regarding who created the toxic blob and how all the pile driving could be spreading it into the river.

  3. Brent,

    The fact that Royal is a designated truck route was raised during the TransLink open houses. Of course, it won't be the "seamless" truck routh Translink sells dreams of: The connection with Columbia at McBride is sketchy, the hill between 8th and 12th would be a traffic hazard down and create a hell of a lot of noise up, and there happens to be a lot of people in a lot of buildings along that route that would be unhappy if it was open to trucks all night.

    It would also be a serious blow to the livability of our City. Increasign truck traffic on Royal is not a solution to any problem.

  4. Three words: Royal Ave Tunnel

    Build a tunnel right through the New West mountain! I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek, but I've been to Italy (my family is Italian) and I've seen them build tunnels through mountains the size of Grouse. Actually, scratch that, they've built tunnels through entire mountain ranges:

    I'm sure we could accomplish that for a couple of billion dollars.

    1. You're absolutely right. For a couple of BILLION dollars we could. And one of my New West friends lived in Neuchatel, Switzerland for a few years where they also did exactly that. Built a massive 4 lane freeway straight under the city.

      Engineering-wise, we can do almost anything. And I understand you're saying that tongue in cheek. Because for a couple of billion dollars, what else could we build? The UBC school for urban design says for a billion dollars we could build over 200km of light rail in Surrey. For another billion we could probably build another 200km in Coquitlam all the way out to Maple Ridge (Mr. Falcon used to claim both the Golden Ears and Pitt River were designed to take future light rail, good luck ever reallocating road lanes for rail transit… the Alex Fraser was originally designed for light rail as well)

      So, a multiple billion dollar approximately 5km tunnel from nowhere to nowhere (the Queensborough Bridge bottleneck issue will still exist) or invest in an alternative future?

  5. Would someone enlighten me as to why so much attention is given to a NFPR when once the SFPR is complete, volumes will decrease considerably. Trucks accessing Delta Port and eastbound will have no need to cross Alex Fraser or enter New West.
    Traffic originating on the North side of the Fraser heading east ( fromVancouver ,Bby, etc;) would access 10th Ave by Byrne Rd/Southlands. And, therein lies the solution to Truck traffic within New West. Spend the money on the long planned Stormont connector to connect to #1 and Loughheed Hwy. If
    Another point is the use of the term "Truck Route" there is no such thing. It is a regular road made for cars and trucks are allowed to use.them. A true truck route should be just that, not be bogged down with huge volumes of cars. The trucks would move with ease and without the stop, Go, Chug Chug, fuel wasting, polluting, creep of truck traffic. Some say moving traffic around the city would be more expensive, however, burning fuel and going no where fast sure is not the anwser.

    1. John, this is exactly the point I tried to make in part one and I've pressed Translink on. They claim it's a "truck route" would they actually enforce that policy. The answer has always been no. Even one city councillor who very much surprised me saying this, believed the UBE would only buy us 2 years before it's clogged again with commuter traffic.

      So what's the point? If it's a truck route, make it a truck route. Otherwise call it a commuter and truck route.

      1. And that's the point I feebly tried to make at the UBE presentation at the JI…the NFPR can't *possibly* be a truck-only route…unless the City is willing to give up Queensborough as a neighbourhood and potential tax revenue source. The Queensborough Bridge is the ONLY way that QB residents can get to mainland New Westminster at the moment. You know…the rest of the city that we live in. We're not Richmond. 🙂

  6. "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings "

    "With the completion of the Evergreen Line, we’ll have the equivalent capacity of a 10 lane freeway between Coquitlam and New Westminster"

    How's Imagination Land these days ?
    Are they still using pixie dust to solve their transportation woes ?
    That type of substance mismanagement will catch up with those Sprites sooner then later !

    1. The expo line currently carries 240,000 passengers per day into and out of Vancouver. That's a lot of cars off the road; I have no idea how many lanes that would equate to, but it's alot. And a lot of parking saved.

      Fast and efficient public transportation should be the goal, not a bunch of new roads.

    2. Rick, those aren't my words. Gordon Campbell has on numerous occasions called Skytrain the equivalent of a 10 lane freeway.

      1. Was flipping thru the tri-cities, found this piece you might be interested in Matt, it's in relation to the Neverseen line and your claims that Gordo says it'll be equivalent to 10 lanes of freeway !

        header – Approval put the Green in Evergreen – "The $1.4-billion transit project, which proponents say will take 60,000 motorists off the road by 2020, "

        What a stretch, just Gordo promised me a 15 percent income tax reduction ! Blow some more smoke, I think I'm catching a buzzzzz !

      2. And then it donned on me…. wasn't that in the online survey ? something about spreading false information ?

  7. Apparently Translink is going to be engaging the community in more consultation, starting next Saturday. See Voice's blog for more information.

  8. This may be a newbie question, but what about the option of going *up* on Front Street, i.e. building both the truck route and the train line above grade? Since we can't build a tunnel there, that would be the next option. It would also remove the barrier between Columbia Street and the water, making things a lot more liveable (although the Interurban residents would be severely affected), and could be made to interact with the Pattullo as well.

  9. Shannon, that assumes we want an elevated freeway as our waterfront. I’m not sure many people do. Most everyone I talk to says they would rather have the waterfront belong to people instead of through-traffic. It also doesn’t address the point that any freeway along our waterfront is still going to result in congestion in Sapperton (no increased capacity there!) and at the Queensborough bridge (recent upgrades already done to no benefit). So the result is the same congestion, but with the permanent loss of our waterfront. Why lose something of value (our waterfront) for nothing?

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