United Boulevard Extension: what’s next? (Part 1)

We won; we stopped the flood gates of the United Boulevard Extension from opening and releasing the hordes of new commuter traffic on to already chocked New Westminster streets. Or did we?

Photo: Matthew Laird
Front Street. Photo: Pat Johnstone

We won; we stopped the flood gates of the United Boulevard Extension from opening and releasing the hordes of new commuter traffic on to already chocked New Westminster streets. Or did we?

New Westminster council has asked TransLink to continue consulting, designing, and to request an extension for the Federal money committed to the project. That sounds like a green light to me; despite a lot of public posturing by mayor and council that they wouldn’t support the project they haven’t actually said no to the UBE, they’re just tinkering with the details. A, B, C, or D are out, but something else might be acceptable.

But the lingering questions which have never been answered still remain. What about Front Street? What about the Queensborough Bridge which is already backed up during rush hour halfway down Stewardson Way? Where will all this new traffic the UBE enables actually go? How will TransLink ensure a route which is supposed to be for goods movement doesn’t get clogged and gridlocked with commuter traffic? The City and TransLink have danced around these issues but never actually directly addressed them. Sadly because of policy or in some cases geography they simply can’t, which should ring loud alarm bells for residents.

To their credit council has again asked that a UBE extension be tied in to Front Street mitigation, that the NFPR shouldn’t be done piecemeal with a decade or more gap between sections such as the UBE and Front Street. Fair enough. However the key in all this is what a full project with proper mitigation will look like. This is the detail the City has never defined, there’s only been vague hand waving about plinths, tunnels, “mitigation” and a few pretty drawings. In fact in the few details that have been released there’s been conflicting plans and flip flops with issues such as the future of Front Street as a retail corridor. A detailed plan on how such a project would be designed, how it would affect the existing Front Street, how it would fit in with newer City approved projects like The Interurban, have never been shown. The last estimate I’ve heard from a source inside City Hall about 5 years ago was over half a billion dollars to get everything on the City’s wish list, a number which is obviously far larger now.

Now that TransLink has been granted a 3 month extension on the Federal money, this raises the question, why didn’t TransLink produce a complete plan when they announced they were proceeding with the UBE project last fall? New Westminster council’s December 2010 motion on the UBE reaffirms their 2007 position that Front Street mitigation must be part of the UBE project. It was a key requirement when New Westminster agreed to engage in the UBE process more than 3 years ago. If they couldn’t produce such a plan after 3 years, why should we expect them to now produce a plan in just 3 months?

Which leaves two options. Staff (both in TransLink and City) will waste hundreds of hours developing a new UBE plan which will never be approved by the City because it simply isn’t possible to plan and fund a project costing well over half billion dollar by March. Or City Council will drop the demand for Front Street mitigation as part of the UBE, approve a new UBE design and the flood gates will be opened with nowhere for the traffic to go. Which is it going to be?

But let’s talk about the realities of the entire NFPR and its funding. What will it cost and how will it be funded? The project New Westminster is demanding, when all the pieces are put together (UBE, Front Street, Columbia/Front intersection, fixing the Queensborough again) will likely come in well over a billion dollars. If you include a new Pattullo Bridge, we’re talking potentially up to $2 billion. In any projects of such magnitude (and we’re told of strategic importance for goods movement in the eyes of higher levels government) both the Federal and Provincial government would most certainly be at the table.

In the scenario of a billion dollar project, which is what New Westminster council currently demanding, whether they realize it or not, as a condition of approving the UBE, a tiny $65 million contribution by the federal government is meaningless. If council is going to stick to its guns for an all-at-once project, why get worked up about $65m? We’re talking about a much bigger pot that needs to be filled to complete the whole project. Regardless, there is only one taxpayer, whether it’s from the Federal, Provincial or Translink, it’s still our money, and we still pay the bill. The quibble is over which set of politicians get to be the bad guys in having to find the money and which get to be the good guys in cutting the ribbon. They’re playing a game involving their egos and political careers using our money.

But lets say we could come up with funding in the ball park of $2 billion, what are the physical realities of building a 4 lane truck route through New Westminster? In the second part of this article we’ll examine the limitations of building a road through the heart of the oldest City in Western Canada.

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.

17 comments

  1. Oh please !

    "The last estimate I’ve heard from a source inside City Hall about 5 years ago was over half a billion dollars to get everything on the City’s wish list, a number which is obviously far larger now."

    Another secret source, and 5 years ago at that ! Your secret contacts with such pertinent information about the UBE and NFPR (that already exists) is very impressive.

    "Staff (both in TransLink and City) will waste hundreds of hours developing a new UBE plan "

    Yes, we have your group to thank for the WASTE of our TAX DOLLARS. Thanks NWEP !

    "But let’s talk about the realities of the entire NFPR and its funding. What will it cost and how will it be funded? "

    Now you want to talk about reality ? Hows this for reality, before you where talking about funding the Neverseen. Now that's off your agenda, and you've switched gears to the tune of a proposed 2 billion dollar 4 lane truck route thru New West the oldest city in western Canada ! What strategy and rhetoric !

    For all your environmental efforts, your group has done nothing but criticize the efforts of Translink, who as far as I'm concerned has done a good job bringing alternatives to the table that both increase efficiency and reduce cost to us all.

    "In the second part of this article "

    Please no !

  2. Rick, Your bottomless capacity for not getting the point is astounding.

    The point the Matt and the NWEP raised, and our City Council agreed, is that the UBE did not solve a problem unless the bigger picture of the entire route from Brunette to Stewardson is addressed at the same time. If you think that pushing a 4-lane “truck route” from the UBE to the Queensborough without tearing out a major hunk of downtown New Westminster can be done without spending half a billion dollars, then it is time for you to finally bring a new idea to the discussion, instead of just showing up to criticise others. What do you think, remove five or ten dozen businesses? Tear up Columbia and make it a 4-lane freeway? Build on the rail lines, or on the Pier Park and Fraser River Discovery Centre? Move all the traffic to Royal Ave? What is your solution?

    Please, Rick, bring an idea. We’d love to hear it.

    Funny, you suggest the NWEP is wrong to question TransLink. Why do you think it is wrong for a group of concerned citizens to ask pointed questions to a quasi-government organization that is spending our tax dollars?

    1. Where did you come from ? How long have you been a resident of New Westminster Pat ?

      "the UBE did not solve a problem " – unequivocally false statement.

      "If you think that pushing a 4-lane “truck route” from the UBE to the Queensborough without tearing out a major hunk of downtown New Westminster can be done without spending half a billion " – I would suggest you review Mat's statements, he indicated that was the cost provided to him from his Secret City Source from 5 years ago, which he now estimates has quadrupled to 2 billion.

      "it is time for you to finally bring a new idea to the discussion" – Pat, I am not a transportation planner, and neither is Mat or yourself. I believe (as I have already stated) that Translink has already done a good job providing alternatives to the T-junction formerly supported by our City and Council.

      "the NWEP is wrong to question TransLink" – I agree !

      Translink…."a quasi-government organization" – This actually shows your ignorance to the fact that Translink is a level of government in BC as defined by the Local Government Act. Translink is infact above municipal.

      "What do you think, remove five or ten dozen businesses? Tear up Columbia and make it a 4-lane freeway? Build on the rail lines, or on the Pier Park and Fraser River Discovery Centre? Move all the traffic to Royal Ave?" – This is all rhetoric, and unworthy of comment as these statements are part of your groups strategy to use scare tactics to influence the public.

      1. “Where did you come from ?”
        Well Rick, it is a bit complicated, but about 40 years ago my Mom and my Dad were watching a baseball game on TV… and one thing led to another…

        “How long have you been a resident of New Westminster Pat?”
        My first New Westminster residence was at 715 Royal Ave across from Douglas College in 1988: an apartment I shared with my brother. I think the building still bears the scar from when my buddy Denis attempted to drive into the underground with his bike on the roof rack. Ripped the gutter right off his old Audi Fox. Good times, Rick. Good times. Why do you ask?

        But aside from a noatalgic tour through my life, I think you had a point. Oh, there it is: You have 100% total trust that TransLink has my interests in mind, because they are a fully accountable Government agency, and all such agencies always act in the best interests of all the citizens. Further, the people of New Westminster should take no part in the governance of their City, and should stop asking questions, and take what they are given without complaint. Got it. Will do. Thanks for the tip.

        1. “Where did you come from ?”
          Well Rick, it is a bit complicated" – I guess so ! Last comments on the UBE from you came back in December and you disappeared leaving Mat to fend off Translink himself !

          So, your saying you have been a resident of New Westminster since 1988 ? Then please forgive me, you have a few more years as a property holding tax paying citizen then myself with your 23 years of res-a-density. I was only curious as to how long, Some people move into a new town from another town but want the new town they just moved into to be like the old town they moved away from. Makes you wonder why people move from a place they loved so much.

          I think I had a point, which lead me to another point, and when they connected form a line, which draws me to my point. Oh here it is: You can't please all the people all the time.

          "Further, the people of New Westminster should take no part in the governance of their City, and should stop asking questions, and take what they are given without complaint." – Sounds good Pat, our taxes will probably go down because of all the additional time they'll have right ?

  3. With the capacity increase on Hwy#1, doubling of the Port Mann bridge and building of the new South Fraser Perimeter Road, in seems more and more likely that the North Fraser Perimeter Road is quickly becoming redundant. And aside from the bigger global question of "why are we building any more road capacity at all?", maybe this presents a perfect opportunity to downgrade our plans and expectations for Front Street in New Westminster.
    Actually our City government now has a great deal of control over traffic and transportation on most of our streets. Maybe it's time we got our act together as a City and started planning for the transportation system WE really want! And at the same time make sure our transportation planning functions are integrated into our overall land use planning!
    If New Westminster had an updated Transportation Plan of our own, we would be better positioned to speak to these ridulous plans pushed on us from other agencies.

    1. "Maybe it's time we got our act together as a City and started planning for the transportation system WE really want"

      >>>>>This is the reason why Translink is a level above municipal. <<<<<<

      Maybe it's time Coquitlam got their act together and started planning for the transportation system THEY want.

      Maybe it's time Burnaby got their act together and started planning for the transportation system THEY want.

      Maybe it's time Vancouver got their act together and started planning for the transportation system THEY want.

      Maybe it's time Surrey got their act together and started planning for the transportation system THEY want.

      It doesn't work that way. Like Mayor Stewart said "The wooden bailey bridge, currently joining the two cities at the western end of Coquitlam, "sits as a shining example of how the 21 jurisdictions [part of TransLink] need to work better together,"

  4. Keith, you've read my mind on what you'll see in part 2. The City IS working on an updated Master Transportation Plan, and just this week at the Environment Advisory Committee a motion was passed urging the City to make no commitments on major transportation projects until the MTP is completed.

    Why continue the piecemeal approach? You're absolutely right, let's figure out what we want as a city when it comes to land use and transportation, then move forward from there. As one councillor said to me recently, we shouldn't let funding dictate our decisions, we should make good decisions then seek out funding. The provincial and federal government far too often are using severely earmarked pots of money to influence and control municipal governments, pushing them to make choices which they might not otherwise make. It's a backdoor form of governance, they're not directly taking control of municipal matters, but at this rate they might as well be.

    Let the $65 million go, once we come up with a full, and better, plan, there will be other money. Why wastefully spend money without a full vision on what a project is and how it will be built. It's amazing how unconservative this federal government is when it comes to throwing around money and putting up big green signs.

    1. "As one councillor said to me recently, we shouldn't let funding dictate our decisions"

      Unfortunatly I can't believe you anymore when you don't reveal your sources. And if I was to wager a guess it would be your buddy Cote.

      "let's figure out what we want as a city when it comes to land use and transportation" – ???? Matt, the land is already zoned, the streets are already paved !

      "Why wastefully spend money without a full vision on what a project is and how it will be built." – ??? The project is the UBE ! The Vision is to efficiently connect truck routes ! Translink provided plans of how it would be built ! What nonsense ! Wake up and smell the coffee.

      It's unfortunate that your using your position on the EAC to dictate to Council transportation issues. I can tell you with great certainty they will ignore your motion as it is not releveat to our cities environmental issues.

  5. I agree with Rick. It's time for us to have a stronger voice on what we want in our city in terms of traffic and road capacity. Time for a paradigm shift, or a change in our role as the region's bottleneck.
    Let's set a higher standard for what we describe as "livability."
    Ideally, this would be in the city's new Transportation Master Plan, currently in the works…
    —Chris @ the NewsLeader

  6. A source in the city let me know new Westminster officials are currently in Victoria. Are they discussing traffic plans or maybe school plans or maybe both? Will there be a press release from the city any time soon?

  7. Chris, I have Twisted Sister playing in my head as I read that. That's right, we're not going to take it anymore! (I'll skip the eye shadow, thanks)

    But what does no longer being the bottleneck mean? Does that mean building a 4 lane highway through the city, cutting the city in half north-to-south from the waterfront just at McBride cuts it in half east-to-west. Accepting volumes more exhaust fumes, choking our air and harming our childrens' development. Or does it mean politely telling those living in the valley, YOU chose to live there, we will gladly accommodate your travel needs, just not by car. If you want to traverse our city, let's talk about alternative means to do so.

    I say this as I've been conducting a personal experiment on how long I could go without using my car. Almost 2 months so far with only 2 outings. One for the big bi-annual Superstore run for bulk toilet paper, paper towel, dishwasher detergent, etc, and once to take the cat to the vet for a blood test. And to the people in the valley, I'm heading to your neck of the woods (Walnut Grove) in the near future for a friend's toddler's birthday party, I have already plotted out how I can quite easily get there by transit. I don't want you bringing your car in to my city, so I will reciprocate and not take mine to your city. The paradigm shift is possible, if we have the willingness to make it happen.

  8. Keep IT UP Matt – we are behind you! Do not trust tanslink or the city on this! The city needs the garbage incinerator to off set the out of control spending by the city. They have just about reached their limit as to what the residential tax payers are willing to pay. A back room agreement with the city and provincial officials on UBE/incinerator will only be announced after the October municipal election and will mean millions for New Westminster.

  9. As a former resident and business owner in the city of New Westminster, my time here has been absolute hell.

    To be specific:

    12th Street narrowing to one lane in each direction.
    Refusal to continue 10th avenue double lanes from 20th Street to McBride. A short stretch exists from 12th to 8th Streets, and it causes headaches for miles around.
    Refusal to co-operate with surrounding municipalities when it comes to mitigating traffic woes that affect the entire region.
    Using bullying tactics to block progress. (The United Boulevard locked gate fiasco comes to mind)
    Turning Columbia Street between Front Street and the Pattullo Bridge into a parking lot by halving the lanes and reducing the speed limit to 30kph.
    Adding back in street parking to Columbia Street when one of the largest parkades in Vancouver is less than 50 metres away.
    Adding and maintaining an utterly useless and pointless 30kph speed limit on the section of Columbia outside downtown.
    Refusing to perform the relatively easy fix of adding a second right hand turn lane from Columbia to Brunette to meet up with Brunette's two lanes.
    The bus only entrance from Marine Way to 23rd Street. One that would have been just fine if the restriction only applied during rush hours.
    The joke that is 20th Street as Burnaby has it double laned, but the moment it hits 10th Avenue, one lonley, miserable lane until 8th Avenue.
    8th Avenue between 8th and 6th Streets during the afternoon rush hour. Need I say more?
    The pathetic traffic calming in Queensborough. Little tiny roundabouts that confuse the hell out of people when someone comes out a side street or makes a left turn. The roundabouts are so small, anyone attempting to exercise their right of way is liable to get hit!
    Refusal to work with surrounding municipalities and TransLink on the UBE.

    New Westminster will stop at nothing to make sure driving through its city is long and torturous for its residents and others. Truly a case of cutting one's nose off to spite their face. There are major problems with how the city is run and until a fundamental ideological shift takes place, this city will continue to have and cause these problems for itself and everyone around it.

    To this end, I have moved away and have taken my business and my home out of New Westminster before it kills me and moved it far, far away from here.

    I believe most here would find it hard to counter these points without using some pathetic blanket excuse of not wanting traffic to travel through New Westminster. Puh-leese. Pull out a map of Vancouver and point to New Westminster. Notice where it is in relation to the other cities on that map. Gee whiz…..

    I have an entirely equal and thorough list for non traffic woes this xenophobic city has as well.

    1. That is quite the list of woes, do you mind me asking what type of business you had, and what municipality you moved to? how did these traffic issues actually affect your business? Are those problem better adressed in your new location?

      I know many of the mechants on Columbia love the new streetscape, and there are new businesses popping up to take advantage of the now-pedestrian-friendly street. But I also recognize that not all solutions fit all people. This is why voices like yours are important in the upcoming City-wide discussions about Transportation planning.

      It might be too late for you (having already moved away), but for everyone else, don't get Frustrated, get involved!

      1. I ran a small computer shop with onsite repair services. After several 'improvements' (eliminating lanes) down several key streets in New Westminster, traffic outside my shop crawled to a parking lot and less people actually came in to order parts and service. It seems that pissed off motorists don't buy much, mainly because the longer they're in traffic, the less likely they're going to want to stop and come in. From the onsite repair point of view, doing any sort of onsite work was absolute hell. Due to traffic, where I would like to close shop around 5pm, I would have to close early because it wasn't economically feasible to have myself or my employees spend two hours on a job because over half of that was spent in traffic.

        Eventually, it got to the point where I was only running the shop from 10 to 2, 5 days a week, and trying to run the onsite half of my business after 7pm when there was less traffic. After several months of this, I decided I had enough, shut down and moved.

        I own a shop in Langley now and although it is only open weekends, the income is much more reliable and steady than it ever was in New Westminster, though I run the onsite half 7 days a week. It's a shame too, because New Westminster was one of the few areas I had more business because of lack of competition from big box stores. The irony is that, I often get MORE business from walk-ins because of dissatisfied customers from many of the big box store around me!

        The kicker? I'll do onsite service as far west as far west as West Vancouver, but I won't touch New Westminster after 2pm. It's simply not profitable for me to do so.

        Langley just works. There are roads, highways, a slowly densifying core. I see great things in Langley's future and it looks like when SkyTrain does finally come here, I hope it turns out like Brentwood, but on a larger scale.

        As for New Westminster? Why delay it any further? City Hall should just throw up that wall they're all itching to build and start shooting at any cars that come near. They're more or less doing that now anyway.

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