LETTER: Expanding Second Narrows bridge a smart fix for North Shore traffic

Dear editor:

On Nov. 7 an accident on the south side of the Second Narrows resulted in very long delays for traffic trying to leave the North Shore and for traffic trying to go east-west across the highway (e.g. Lower Lonsdale to Seymour). In a CBC news article about this event, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure was quoted as saying the following:

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  • it’s not possible to expand either of the two bridges to the North Shore due to structural limitations, and
  • a new bridge could lead to more congestion, slower travel times and more traffic on the streets.

In response to the first point: Yes, Lions Gate Bridge is fixed at its current configuration;  no, the Ironworkers could be widened by adding a new structure adjacent to it and tying to the existing at the deck level – this was outlined in a report by the same engineering firm that was involved in the reconstruction of Lions Gate.

Second point: Most growth on the North Shore is taking place east of Lonsdale and even without an expanded Second Narrows crossing this growth will add more traffic to the street system; even if 80 percent of the new trips from growth are non-automobile, this will still add a noticeable increase in vehicle volumes.

This is the ministry that:

  •  increased the Port Mann crossing from five lanes to 10 lanes [Port Mann daily volume in 2018: 150,100; Second Narrows (six lanes): 138,000];
  • opened the Alex Fraser Bridge with four lanes, later re-organized to six lanes and recently opened a seventh lane, and
  • proposed replacing the four-lane Massey Tunnel with a 10-lane bridge (two lanes for transit).

In a study of options to add capacity at Second Narrows, the traffic activity at year 2021 was modelled for the a.m. peak period. The results of that modelling showed that the travel speeds from Lonsdale to First Avenue (in Vancouver) increased as follows compared to a “no improvement base case”:

  • with interchange improvements only: +10 per cent
  •  with a parallel four-lane bridge and minimum municipal improvements: +60 per cent.

A four-lane parallel bridge scheme would reorganize connections at each end of the Ironworkers to provide essentially a North Shore-Vancouver oriented crossing and a revamped (better interchange spacing) Second Narrows corridor as part of the Highway 1 freeway. About 40 per cent of the southbound a.m. peak traffic on the Second Narrows gets off the freeway at McGill or at Hastings. The remainder of the trips on the freeway are destined to very diverse locations. Transit access to either bridge could be significantly enhanced compared to existing conditions. Also, traffic management during an incident on either the existing Second Narrows or the parallel crossing would be easier and more effective.

Look at Highway 1 eastbound from Lonsdale at 8 a.m. and at 3:30 p.m.; look at the eastbound queue on Keith Road and on Main Street in the afternoon. All the transit improvements and other non-vehicular changes in the world are not going to eliminate the long queues on Highway 1 and the approaches to the on-ramps.

Brian Wallace
North Vancouver

Editor’s note: The letter writer has been involved in transportation planning since 1966, including with the City of Vancouver, and in 2007 received a lifetime achievement award by the Greater Vancouver section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

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