British Columbia

North Shore traffic nightmare raises concerns about plans for a real disaster

North Shore commuters say two bridges and the Seabus can't handle the demand — and there are no plans to improve the situation.

Calls for better transit infrastructure follow four-hour gridlock earlier this week

A flipped concrete truck on the Vancouver side of the Iron Workers Memorial Second Narrows bridge brought southbound traffic from the North Shore to a grinding halt during Thursday's evening rush hour. (Tim Oldfield/Vancouver Fire Rescue Service/Twitter)

On a regular day, Dale Marthaller's commute from his job in North Vancouver to his home in Vancouver can take anywhere from 20 minutes to just under an hour.

But it took him four hours and 15 minutes to get home Thursday evening, with two of those hours spent inching his vehicle forward only two blocks.

A concrete truck had flipped on the McGill Street ramp on the Vancouver side of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge immobilizing traffic from the North Shore trying to reach other parts of the Lower Mainland.

"It was a complete parking lot," said Marthaller. 

But more than anything, he says it raises real concerns about emergency management in the region.

"Can you imagine if we really had an emergency? If we had floods or earthquakes ... or something that involved a heavy police presence," said Marthaller.

"I can't imagine the chaos that would ensue from that. We are not at all equipped to move the number of people we have to and from the North Shore."

For years, those who live and work on the North Shore have been calling for transit alternatives to car commuting and many ideas have been floated including new tunnels, bridges and even increased ferry service.

Yet, despite the calls and studies, there are still no approved plans.

The Ironworkers Memorial Bridge is one of two bridges connecting the North Shore to Vancouver, B.C. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Mayor weighs in

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little agrees that disaster response is a major concern for the community.

In fact, the district participated in an emergency management exercise Tuesday to practise its post-disaster plans.

Still, he says Thursday's traffic jam was an unfortunate example of the infrastructure failing.

"This issue of transportation on the North Shore is our top issue, hands down," he said.

And while he notes efforts by both the provincial and federal governments — a fixed-link rapid transit study for the North Shore, as well as another that focuses on the economic impacts of traffic on the region — he says concrete action is needed, not just reports.

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little says transportation to and from the North Shore is the district's main concern. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Little points out there hasn't been an increase in the number of bridge lanes connecting North Shore municipalities to Vancouver since 1968, even though the population has more than doubled in that time.

"[The traffic] is making it very hard for people to be able to live their lives in our community," said Little.

Transit infrastructure for the North Shore, he says, is taking a back seat to other regional priorities. He points to projects like a replacement for the Massey Tunnel serving communities south of the Fraser River which  is currently in public consultations. Or the Pattullo Bridge, connecting Surrey and New Westminster, slated to be replaced with a new four-lane bridge by 2023.

"It [the Iron Workers Memorial bridge] is a very significant piece of regional infrastructure. And it needs to be addressed," he said.

Government response 

The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says it's not possible to expand either of the two bridges to the North Shore due to structural limitations.

There are also no plans for a third bridge because "a new bridge would lead to more congestion, slower travel times and more traffic on the streets," a ministry spokesperson wrote to CBC News in an emailed statement. 

The province acknowledged the call for more transit options between the North Shore and the Mainland and said they are currently studying the feasibility of fixed-link rapid transit. 

In the case of a disaster or an emergency, the ministry said they would provide "timely information on the status of our bridges and highways" from an emergency operations centre. 

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