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United Boulevard Extension: an interview with Sany Zein, TransLink Director of Roads

United Boulevard Extension: an interview with Sany Zein, TransLink Director of Roads

A map of the United Boulevard Extension with the issue areas delineated. This is pulled from the boards put up at the United Boulevard consultation sessions. Click for a MUCH larger version!

Please note: in response to the huge response on this project, another consultation session has now been scheduled for New Westminster, on Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Justice Institute of British Columbia! Find out more at the United Boulevard page.

Sany Zein, TransLink's Director of Roads!

As you may know, we’re currently consulting on the United Boulevard Extension, a project to improve multimodal travel and regional goods movement in the Coquitlam and New Westminster areas.

The project, which is part of our 2011 supplemental plans, has raised a ton of discussion about implementation, its value, and what will happen next—for example, see these posts at Tenth to the Fraser and the New West Environmental Partners.

So I thought I’d also do an interview with Sany Zein, TransLink’s Director of Roads, to find out a bit more about the project and hopefully add to the discussion that is already out there.

What is the United Boulevard Extension and why is it considered a priority for the region?


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The United Boulevard Extension is part of the North Fraser Perimeter Road project, which has been a regional priority since the 1990s. The North Fraser Perimeter Road is intended to improve cycling and walking connections between New Westminster and Coquitlam, and facilitate the movements of goods and keep trucks moving on regional roads rather than local roads. The project will link the Pitt River Bridge with the Queensborough Bridge, through an efficient regional corridor.

Within that corridor there are many things that need to be done. One of them is improving the link between United Boulevard in Coquitlam and Brunette Avenue in New Westminster. Other components of the North Fraser Perimeter Road are improvements on Front Street, and improvements on Brunette at Columbia. The United Boulevard Extension is a piece of road that’s missing from the arterial network.

Today, United Boulevard is built to a four-lane arterial standard, and Brunette Avenue is mostly built to a four lane arterial standard. But in between, there is a single lane wooden Bailey bridge, so traffic has to take alternating turns crossing the bridge. Braid Street, which is the road between United and Brunette, is an industrial road that crosses multiple rail tracks at grade. There is a very busy rail yard just south of Brunette Avenue, so traffic comes to a halt as trains come across the road repeatedly near the intersection of Braid and Brunette. So that arterial corridor has a discontinuity with the bridge and at-grade rail crossings.

At the same time, Braid Street south of Brunette serves an industrial area. So it’s a busy area for trucks and business, which is at the moment choked by the rail crossings and the single lane bridge.

Why is TransLink interested in this road project – shouldn’t TransLink be investing only in transit projects?

While TransLink is best known for providing transit services such as SkyTrain and buses, we do have a mandate for regional road movements. Economic growth and efficient goods movement are a key goal in the region’s long-range transportation strategy, Transport 2040.

So with the municipalities, we manage the regional road network, and we are always helping the municipalities fund and plan road projects of regional importance. The Coast Meridian Overpass in Port Coquitlam and the Fraser Highway widening in Surrey are examples of major road network improvements that TransLink has co-funded. The North Fraser Perimeter Road, and specifically the United Blvd Extension, has been identified as the highest priority regional road project.

Why is it such a high priority?

Major planning milestones for the United Boulevard project from the 1990s to today. Taken from the boards presented at the United Boulevard consultation sessions. Click for a MUCH larger version.

In the 1990s, the province and then the region looked at what the regional road priorities were, and this is one of the last remaining projects from that set that hasn’t been addressed. Stakeholders in the goods movement community confirm that the North Fraser Perimeter Road is their highest priority.

What are the potential benefits of this project?

The benefits can be discussed in a few aspects. The first is “What are the benefits to New Westminster?” One of the key benefits is encouraging regional and truck traffic to flow on the regional network, rather than the more residential-oriented roads such as Braid Street and 8th Avenue. This project will support the removal of Braid Street and 8th Avenue from the truck network, at the request of New Westminster.

Another aspect is improving traffic conditions on the local roads of the Sapperton neighbourhood. New Westminster has requested, and we have agreed, that as part of this project, we will help with the preparation of a neighbourhood mitigation plan for Sapperton, to better manage traffic, noise, and visual issues.

We are also expecting the southbound lineups on Braid Street to get shorter. Today on Braid Street, heading south towards Brunette, vehicles could wait several long signal cycles . But because this project will simplify the intersection of Braid and Brunette, traffic will move more efficiently. It will be a less complex intersection with fewer lineups on Braid Street – this will reduce stop-and-go conditions.

Another project benefit will be significantly improved pedestrian and cycling facilities between New Westminster and Coquitlam. Today the environment is hostile to pedestrians and bikes travelling between United and Brunette. This project will include upgraded facilities for pedestrians and cyclists to travel between the two cities.

Finally, for New Westminster businesses in the Braid industrial area south of Brunette Avenue, this project will make it easier for customers, employees and deliveries to reach their destinations.

Coquitlam has an industrial area along United Blvd and this project will improve regional connectivity to the businesses along that corridor.

For the region, the movement of goods and regional traffic will be better served by removing a bottleneck that’s now created by the single lane bridge and the busy at-grade rail crossings.

There are four options currently presented for the United Boulevard Extension. Will we only consider the one option (the T option) that New Westminster council has endorsed? Why would we even consider the other three options we have presented?

Option A, the United Boulevard construction option conditionally approved by New Westminster Council. Taken from the boards presented at the United Boulevard consultation sessions. Click for a MUCH larger version!
See PDFs of each proposed option:

So far, New Westminster council has conditionally approved one option, the T option, which is also known as Option A. While Option A will improve the current conditions, it is expensive and requires a new large raised signalized intersection, creating a substantial structure at the south edge of the Sapperton neighbourhood.

As part of our due diligence we have therefore looked at a range of alternatives to see what else we can do, and TransLink sought the input of the community on three additional Options, named B, C, and D, which were not endorsed by New West Council. We recognize that while these options may cost less that Option A, they physically intrude more into the community, although in terms of visual impacts they may have benefits compared to Option A.

However, the feedback that we have received so far indicates opposition from the community to Options B, C, and D. We will not proceed with any options that are not endorsed by New Westminster Council.

It’s really important to emphasize that this project will only proceed with the approval of New Westminster and Coquitlam councils. We will only proceed with their approval and with an option that they believe will work for the community.

There is also the question: are there other options out there? We will continue to do our due diligence to find out if there are things that we can still look at. We are welcoming ideas from New West and Coquitlam staff, council, and residents, and already as part of the public consultation process residents have approached us with some ideas to explore. Are there other options we should be looking at which will solve the traffic issues and minimize community impacts that we should throw into the mix? We are open to more options. (Editor’s note: Please feel free to contact TransLink community relations officer Vincent Gonsalves with your suggestions at vincent.gonsalves@translink.ca.)

Could you address the concerns raised about the public consultation session held in New Westminster on November 18?

We received a lot of comments that the session on Thursday, November 18 could have been better organized. The turnout was large, which we were thrilled with, but the venue and the setup proved to be inadequate for the number of people who attended.

We very much appreciate the residents’ engagement, as well as the attendance of New Westminster Council members and the Mayor. We heard their concerns, and we want to continue the engagement in a forum which would allow residents to better understand the project and provide good feedback. So we have organized an additional public engagement session on December 7 at the Justice Institute. There will be a presentation and an opportunity to discuss the project and have a Q&A session. (Editor’s note: See this page for more detail on the Dec 7 session.)

When is the actual deadline for the federal money to go away? How does that work?

The federal government has earmarked a $65 million contribution towards this project, and they are requesting a commitment by December 31, 2010 that the project will proceed. The reason they’ve set a contribution agreement deadline is because the federal contribution comes from a program that expires in March 2014. They want to make sure those dollars can be spent by that date, and if they cannot be spent here, they will look for other places to spend them.

What happens next?

Coquitlam Council has approved the project, but the majority of the project is in New Westminster, so the key approval is from New Westminster Council. We have conditional approval for Option A from New West council, and we are working with New Westminster staff to make sure the conditions they have attached to their approval are addressed to their satisfaction. We continue to conduct our technical and financial due diligence to make sure that all alternatives are looked at to ensure a functional and affordable project.

If approved to proceed to the next stage, in early 2011 we will do more public consultation, more technical work on the design, and we will start the environmental assessment, neighbourhood mitigation, and design processes. We would aim to start construction in early 2012.

There may be property acquisition needed as part of this project. Can you talk about the process involved with that?

Any of the options would likely involve some impacts on property. For properties that are directly affected, there is a process by law which TransLink follows to deal one- on-one with property owners. The process involves negotiations and discussions directly with property owners. (Editor’s note: The law is called the BC Expropriations Act — read the law here.)

How does this project fit into the big picture of the North Fraser Perimeter Road?

While we now may have the opportunity to build the United Boulevard Extension, New West council has been very clear that they don’t want this to happen in isolation. They want to know how the whole corridor will be addressed. So we’ve committed that, as part of the Pattullo Bridge Replacement project with a new toll bridge, we will look at improving Front Street. We are also giving a commitment to improve Brunette Avenue at Columbia, where the road narrows down from two eastbound lanes to one eastbound lane.

So we have a big picture. We have the opportunity in front of us now to get the United Boulevard Extension done by 2014. We are asking if the region is interested in proceeding with this part of the project now, with the understanding that we are actively looking and committing to solutions overall on the North Fraser Perimeter Road.

How much is this going to cost?

In round numbers, the latest estimates for the Options that we have looked are between $150M and $175M. TransLink has committed $60M to this project as long as we can find a scope that New Westminster and Coquitlam can support. So combined with the federal contribution, we have $125M committed. If the project proceeds, we will be attempting to close the funding gap by seeking more partners to help fund the project, and by getting into more design details to explore if the costs can be brought down.

Thanks Sany!

Again, for more information, please do come out to the next consultation session at Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. You can find out more about the consultation and the project at the United Boulevard page.

And as always, feel free to post your comments and questions here and Sany and I will get you the answers!