Bailey bridge decision 'complete disaster:' Harper

  - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

A New Westminster councillor called an arbitrator's decision to side with Coquitlam over the Bailey bridge issue "a complete disaster."

Arbitrator S. Glenn Sigurdson said Coquitlam's arguments were more persuasive than New West's. He ruled a plan for a two-lane crossing of the Brunette River must be in place within 60 days.

New Westminster started replacement of the structurally unsound one-lane Bailey bridge that connects Braid Street with United Boulevard in Coquitlam this week. The crossing has been closed since March.

New West has been steadfast in its objection to a two-lane crossing. The city believes it will make the Braid and Brunette Avenue intersection even more congested than it already is. Coquitlam feels a one-lane crossing is inadequate.

Sigurdson did not give his reasons.

"It's a complete disaster," said New West Coun. Bill Harper. "The arbitrator either didn't understand or decided that Coquitlam had a position that was better than ours. When they don't explain it, it's difficult to respond."

Harper believes provincial Transportation Minister Todd Stone affected the arbitrator's ruling when he made a conditional offer to New Westminster in May.

Stone said the province would provide a Bailey bridge only if New West was willing to accept the installation of a second one to make it a two-lane crossing. City council turned down the offer and spent $100,000 to get its own Bailey bridge. That was on top of the $70,000 installation cost it was already on the hook for.

"My view is that was an inappropriate act on his part," said Harper of Stone supporting Coquitlam's position. "The minister of the crown was interfering in that [arbitration] process."

Harper said it will be "hugely problematic" trying to figure out how to mitigate the added congestion caused by commuters looking for a shortcut with a two-lane crossing. He added trains cross Braid between Brunette and the bridge an average of 66 times a day.

"There's no plan, no nothing on how to handle the extra traffic. It's just going to back up, and reroute itself. We don't know how it's going to play out," said Harper. "We will abide by the arbitration. I think it's a disaster. It's just silly. We're just going to have to live with it."

MAP: The Bailey bridge has been a site of contention between the two cities for decades.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said the ruling could pave the way for a permanent two-lane crossing to be built as early as this fall.

"The next step is to sit down with the City of New Westminster and implement the decision," Stewart told Black Press. "I fully expect that they will be cooperative and will abide by the decision."

Harper, however, said Stewart has severely damaged relations between the two municipalities.

"I just think the mayor of Coquitlam has destroyed the relationship between the City of Coquitlam and the City of New Westminster through what I would call his rancorous position that he has taken in insisting he get his way," said Harper.

Coun. Jonathan Coté said he was disappointed with the ruling because New Westminster was confident it had a strong case because doubling the crossing wouldn't solve the congestion problem.

"That appears to have been ignored in the arbitration process," said Coté. "Unfortunately the arbitrator has not provided any reasons, so the City of New Westminster is going to be left in the dark."

Council will discuss its next move when it meets Monday.

Stone was unavailable prior to the NewsLeader's deadline to comment on whether or not the province would still be willing to provide a second Bailey bridge at no cost. When he made the offer in May, he said Coquitlam would pay for its installation.

– With file from Gary McKenna

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