Pattullo Bridge Fire, Monday Commute Won't be Pretty

Comments 36 by Rebecca Bollwitt

I’ve written enough about the Pattullo Bridge over the years that this aging decrepit structure has warranted its own tag; from asbestos in the deck, possible tolls, to lanes that are dangerously slim. Early this morning a fire broke out under its deck, forcing those who depend on it as a Fraser River crossing to take detours.

Photo credit: Paul Hillsdon on Flickr

The Pattullo Bridge is closed after a fire affecting its supports on the Surrey side, raising fears it could be shut for months. Bridge engineers are now inspecting the damage. TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said nobody should plan to use the bridge tomorrow. He said the worst case scenario is the bridge could be closed for months if major structural repairs are required. [Surrey Leader]

A wooden section near the south end of the bridge caught fire. According to TransLink, an arsonist may have been responsible. TransLink engineers examined the damaged trestle to determine if it must be replaced, and Hardie is now saying it “looks like an extended closure.” TransLink is meeting this afternoon with RCMP and transport ministry officials to develop a plan for the area. That will be followed by an announcement from TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon at 4:30 p.m. [The Province]

To say that this will disrupt the commuting situation is an understatement. 80,000 commuters will be diverted to the Port Mann and Alex Fraser, while hopefully there are some extra SkyTrains running to help get tens of thousands of people to work and back. The Pattullo is an enormous part of our region’s transportation infrastructure and it’s pretty terrible that even after over a dozens deaths due to its narrow lanes and crumbling structure there are still no signs of its replacement on the horizon.


Update: Experts are projecting that the closure will last “from 4 to 6 weeks”. No bikes will be allowed on SkyTrain to accommodate the extra passengers and trains will run earlier, from 4:30am.

Update: Commuters should look at transit as an option. This morning I heard that SkyTrains were no more full than usual however it took about 1.5 hours to go only a few blocks in heavy traffic for the other bridges and routes.

Current Contests on Miss604
*All contests are open to residents of Canada only, unless otherwise stated. Contest timelines are published on each individual post along with entry methods. Some contests may only be open to those 19 years of age and older. Winners are announced on the contest blog posts. Contest policy »

36 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. raincoasterSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 9:35am PST

    That the darn thing is still around is amazing to me. But…if it’s got so much darn asbestos, howcum it caught on fire? Asbestos may be nasty, but it IS flameproof!

  2. KeithSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 9:41am PST

    Oooohh… This is going to make for a nasty Monday morning. Perhaps this will incite Translink to setup and leave in place 6-car skytrans on the expo line.

  3. DonSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 9:56am PST

    Hopw about teaching people how to DRIVE! Lanes are fine — they are wide enough to pass 21 semi trucks ( I have done it). The bridge may need replacing, but this is what we have until then.

  4. Miss604Sunday, January 18th, 2009 — 10:07am PST

    I won’t argue that there are some terrible drivers out there that especially go 20-30km over the speed limit when crossing this span. However, the lanes are actually far smaller and more narrow than any other bridge around that I know of. When you mix semi trucks with commuters, a big curve and rainy conditions, it’s not a pretty sight. It’s great that you are brave enough to pass comfortably on the 70-year old bridge, Don, but I know it bothers we every time.

    The fact that one structure can cause SO many deaths, safety violation, and disturbances, is absurd in my books.

  5. Kye GraceSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 10:27am PST

    The City of Surrey likes to consider itself all kinds of positive things when it comes being a prominent city in Canada (some accurate, some not).

    The City of Surrey has developed and encouraged a city of commuters. They then cry foul when their citizens don’t have adequate bridges to use in their CHOSEN commute that the rest of pay for and only use occasionally.

    In my opinion The City of Surrey relied on high housing prices elsewhere to draw in new citizens with more affordable housing yet in turn did not draw in business and NEW industry to provide these people employment opportunities closer to home. Urban Sprawl abound…

    The reason I pick on Surrey for this compared to other municipalities is Surrey has made efforts to do this and failed.

    They have a chance to be the second business center that Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley so desperately needs.

    All this being said it is very sad and frustrating to see the loss of life on this bridge. Cause though in my opinion is not exclusively the dimensions of the bridge, albeit a contributing factor.

    As far as the fire goes, thems the breaks for a commuter.

  6. AndrewSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 10:39am PST

    Translink (aka Puppet taxation arm of the provincial government) has all but ignored those who are South of the Fraser River. To be assured If this bridge was located in West Vancouver it would have been replaced decades ago.

  7. LakerSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 10:47am PST

    Build a new one. Put a toll on it. Take toll away when it’s paid off. If you don’t like tolls, move or take a different route/public transit.

    It’s not safe. It’s run it’s course.

    The new one should be at least 3 lanes each way, expandable to 4 each way, (much like how the Alex Fraser Bridge started at 2 each way and was expanded to 3 each way) including mods to each end to ensure traffic flows smoothly off the ends.

  8. AidanSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 12:45pm PST

    I have only travelled the Pattullo bridge a few times, as I am from Richmond and very rarely do I have to travel out that way. One of the times that I had to travel it was with a bus full of children (I was the driver) There were just so many driver speeding past me, and even a few of them showed disgust in my ability to drive the speed limit (honking their horns, giving the finger) … the lanes in my opinion were to narrow, but they were good enough if I was more comfortable with driving over the bridge.

    My boyfriend is also a currior driver and travels over it all the time, he thinks it is an alright bridge, but come Monday his commute and routine will change due to this fire.

  9. CurtisSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 12:57pm PST

    A friend of mine was lucky to survive an accident on the Patullo a couple of years ago. I’m with Laker: build new bridge, pay off with tolls.

    It’s a nasty bridge; whether people are good drivers or not, the narrow lanes jack up the danger level unnecessarily. Good roads and bridges make it easier to avoid accidents between drivers at all skill levels.

  10. Jason LeeSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 12:59pm PST

    Wow, that is some devastating news. I hope they will be able to resolve the problem quickly. That is a major roadway.

  11. steveSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 1:06pm PST

    oh this is a topic i will have a lot to say on.

    as a commercial driver, i own a 5 ton truck, i utilize the patullo only as a convenience to get to my dock on the Vancouver-Burnaby border. I for one will only miss it for the convenience to get to my dock. Although since i use 2 lanes across i have pissed off enough people, I WILL BE HAPPY TO USE ALEX FRASER to get where i need to. I hope they condem the bridge.

    as for the comment on here about asbestos, that i believe they used in concrete in the days of construction. the part that burned is the creosote soaked wood which is oil based to a point. it was the wood below the asphalt that is affecting the bridge.

  12. Miss604Sunday, January 18th, 2009 — 1:19pm PST

    @ Kye – I disagree with the housing argument. On a personal note, my family has lived in Surrey for over 50 years and the bridge has been around for over 70… long before commuting was an issue. The Pattullo connects New Westminster to Surrey and last I heard it went in both directions. It’s not just for commuters but it’s also a trucking route and at one point was the only connector for the main Highway 99A (King George) out to the Valley and also over to Seattle.

    It is and has always being a major artery which given its lack of attention, repair and even replacement, is surprising.

  13. Miss604Sunday, January 18th, 2009 — 1:23pm PST

    @ Andrew “To be assured If this bridge was located in West Vancouver it would have been replaced decades ago.” I agree.

  14. ChrisSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 2:20pm PST

    I can’t say I’ve driven the Pattullo all that often, but when I have it’s been with some level of trepidation. The lanes are only as wide as the city of Vancouver streets it seems and I find that people used to larger lanes elsewhere don’t always realize this.

    Speed is the other issue, but not one that affects the Pattullo alone. I find that people hit the pedal on all the bridges (Oak St., Arthur Laing, Granville, whereever), but with little room for error, speed related mistakes on the Pattullo cause more harm and cost more lives.

    At least in my humblest of opinions.

  15. Kye GraceSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 4:16pm PST

    @Andrew @Miss604 That’s right the bridge from West Vancouver to Vancouver is the envy of bridge travellers world wide. Its 3 lane counter flow system, congested downtown drive to get on it, the fact it can be partially or completely blocked by a single stall or accident, and no dividers between opposite flowing lanes is the standard all bridges aspire to be built to. Playing the ‘its not fair card’ doesn’t work here.

    As far as my take on Surrey see my comment here on your earlier post on Surrey developments, it really explains my opinion what should be happening. It would result in residents of Surrey spending less time in their cars, more time at home with family and increased business and commercial tax revenue for the city resulting in lower residential taxes. Thats where I would be asking my city to put their efforts if I lived there not pleading for a new bridge.

    I guess my frustration comes what appears to be a golden opportunity to be the city that Surrey wants to be…

    “Surrey, the future lives here” is the slogan on their website. I agree, but how much longer do we have to wait? Right now it is “Surrey, everyone lives here but only half of us work here, beep beep”

    Bottom line IMO is the volume of the traffic on the bridge is commuter traffic, I am willing to be wrong if someone pulls the data to show otherwise.

    Lastly my original comment doesn’t put all the responsibility of excessive commuting traffic on the commuter but rather the decision makers who could take actions to provide their citizens better opportunities closer to home.

  16. JACKSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 4:48pm PST


  17. JennySunday, January 18th, 2009 — 5:47pm PST

    Surrey happens to be on the other side of a river from the major business center of our area. How many Burnaby residents do you think actually work in Burnaby? Or coquitlam or New Westminster? What about all the people cramming on bridges from Richmond everyday?
    That being said the only member of my extended family that actually works Downtown takes the skytrain everyday.
    I think Surrey really should encourage more business and industry so that fewer people do rely on these bridges however a lot of people using the bridges are also from the valley, langley, aldergrove etc..

  18. Kye GraceSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 7:53pm PST

    I am pretty sure I have flogged the dead horse about enough with post…there is some great conversation brewing here and people standing up for what they believe which I admire. I may not agree with everyone but encourage them to pass on your thoughts to your local municipal leadership regardless of what I or other think.


    Your point that Surrey happens to be on the other side of the river supports my stance. The City of Surrey has a geographical advantage to create another business center outside of Vancouver. In fact they have a better geographical advantage considering proximity to border crossings, the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, reasonable access to YVR (not as good as Vancouver mind you)…well you get the idea. If they can create a new business center they will likely absorb the “lot of people using the bridges are also from the valley, langley, aldergrove etc..” and allow them to gain employment in Surrey or better yet their employer will move to Surrey into modern facilities.

    For the love of Pete, Surrey, you are sitting on a gold mine too bad we are counting on politicians to take action to make it happen.

    Burnaby has done a great job at encouraging business to set up in Burnaby. There are major corporate employers all along the freeway and Metrotown. In fact Telus has two major operations in Burnaby, one of which is fairly new.

    And in the slight defense of those who live in Burnaby, New West, Coquitlam and commute to a municipality west of them haven’t hemmed themselves in with only two routes out (Portman and the Pat).

    I more than anyone I want Surrey to be the most successful city around and to do so I think they need to provide more in Surrey for its citizens rather than focusing on how its citizens can get out of Surrey to go to work.

    Of course there are people far smarter than I (most are) who know better than I do if this is viable…so from this point forward I will leave it to them.

  19. ElkSunday, January 18th, 2009 — 8:14pm PST

    First I believe the pattulo bridge should have been replaced many moons ago I remember as a child people talking about how they hated driving over the bridge because it was so narrow. As for the comment from the commercial driver that says people curse him when he takes two lanes, I have to say I especially like it when the semi’s use the two lanes because going around a curb I do not like being next to you, and the jerk that gets mad at you for taking two lanes used to get frustrated at me for not passing at that point, thank you. It will be interesting when all this extra traffic ends up on the alex fraser, and port mann bridges how frustrated these people become with the traffic pushed over to “there bridge” from patullo. I’m sure more will be in favour of a new bridge. You can not toll a new bridge that is way past replacing I as a tax payer have helped to pay for many other roads, and repairs to te roads I do not use, if we payed a toll for every road we took traffic would not move, the roads alreay paid for or bridges in this case would become more crowded.

  20. MarkOLMâ„¢Sunday, January 18th, 2009 — 9:07pm PST

    I moved to Vancouver from Toronto about 4 years ago, and one of the first things that caught my attention was the poor transportation systems around the lower mainland.

    This is not a city of Surrey problem alone, this is a lower mainland/provincial problem. The fact that it took the Olympics coming to town for the province to finally upgrade the route to Whistler, and to build a long overdue Canada Line is a telling sign at how poorly planned the growth of this region is.

    Fortunately I’ve lived and worked in Vancouver throughout my 4 years here, but I’ve seen how a 5-10km drive through the city can turn into a 30+ minute nightmare. Coming from the high-strung East it would drive me nuts, but I’ve learned to plan for delays, and to take things a lot easier thinking that it’s unavoidable. The few times that I’ve ventured out to Surrey and beyond, I was shocked at just how bad the commute was, even on days or hours that are supposedly less trafficked. This in addition to the mess that is the Lions Gate bridge – Beautiful bridge, terribly antiquated for usage. Also, as an employer, the amount of times that my Surrey based employees were late for work because of the Patullo and other traffic related issues was ridiculous to put it lightly.

    Apparently this doesn’t just apply to the roads. About a week or two ago I saw a piece on the local news that was talking about parents camping out in a school gymnasium to have their kids taken into the school. This was in Yaletown, and the amazing thing was that this school was one of the only schools in the area. With all of the recent growth in Yaletown, young families moving in to the area have been forced to seek alternatives for their kids education. The city gladly hands out permit after permit without making developers contribute to necessary infrastructure improvements, nor do they bother to consider what kind of effect the increased population will have on a variety of essential services.

    I love Vancouver and plan on staying here long term, but I would just love to finally hear local and provincial governments finally plan for the future by allocating much needed funds to improve infrastructure, rather than continuously playing catch up to things that should’ve been done 10+ years earlier. Hopefully the Patullo problem forces the hand of those responsible to finally consider an alternative mode of traffic.

  21. SteveMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 6:32am PST

    I find it funny how everyone here is all mad at surrey politico’s over this bridge….. Um PEOPLE! This bridge is owned by TRANS LINK!

    And for the person who thanked me for using two lanes. You are welcome…..I shall continine this practice when it reopens…..if it reopens.

  22. JeffMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 8:07am PST

    This bridge has been in need of serious attention for many years. When they built the skytrain bridge in 1984 or so… they should have built 3 vehicle lanes and made the patullo 3 lanes in 1 direction, and now, they still would have had a 3 lane bridge to use as a result of this fire.

    As for a new bridge, I don’t agree with tolls but if that is the only alternative, it will have to do.

    I also think that a toll on the new bridge being built crossing the river at albion is a bad idea. Anybody that has ever sat for 2 hours at the Cape Horn interchange trying to get over the Port Mann Bridge is owed the new bridge. The Cape Horn interchange is a total embarrasment to any engineer or planner and a disgusting commute for anyone who has ever had to drive around it.

  23. Rob JMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 9:23am PST

    Interesting discussion, everyone.

    I appreciate what Kye is saying – Surrey does need to beef up it’s business strategy to shift from being Vancouver’s bedroom community to a business centre of its own (which includes major improvement to transit). As much as I love working downtown, I’d love to work closer to home and spend more time with the family. But, this is a long term goal for the City of Surrey, it seems to me.

    The Pattullo Bridge has been an eyesore, and a negative force in terms of commuter issues and related deaths, for years. This is not to mention how old the structure is. Repairing the bridge and making it safe seems like a no-brainer. That would have been a great short-term goal to address.

  24. VladimirMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 10:07am PST

    The real issue here is the homeless. We have to protect and care to the needs of them. Build Shelters, provide food and education to them.

    I commute to Richmond and will be affected by this bridge closure. The hour and a half commute won’t bother me, just as long as this brings to the forefront the issues that homeless people face in our society.

    I really feel bad for all those people stuck in traffic in their warm cars sipping on starbucks.

  25. dkMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 10:08am PST

    This is just another example of how the terrorists have won. Forget the fight them over there so we don’t have to here. They have ‘let them rebuild over here while everything falls apart over there’. Touche al queda, you win again. Although with 2012 around the corner, the bridge only had 3 yeas left anyways…..

  26. Urban DwellerMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 12:42pm PST

    @ Rob J, agreed. Surrey lacks in the commerce development, while Richmond and Burnaby have done a wonderful job in attracting business to open up shop all Surrey has done is contribute to sprawl. It needs to a shift in not only its business development but its urban development. Even if they build a city centre, the rest of it will be surrounded by neighbourhoods under siege by cul-de-sacs.

    @ Kye, great points! Couldn’t agree more.

  27. JennyMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 1:12pm PST

    @Kye I don’t disagree.

    @Vladimir. Homelessness is indeed an issue. That doesn’t mean that the people that have jobs and cars to get to them should be shamed. We are thankful to be so blessed and we contribute in many ways to help those less fortunate then us.

  28. Pissed offMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 2:01pm PST

    The Pattullo bridge, Port Mann bridges etc are a complete and utter joke. Our transit system, roads, etc are another complete joke and having this bridge down proves it more so. We lose half our paycheques to the government, pay tax on tax on tax for levies, road improvements, transit etc yet we still pay for the shit transit system and they want to toll our roads. The rich at Whistler get a free billion dollar highway upgrade while commuters get fucked up the ass with tolls. I am sick and tired of it. Please, sign me up for a fat cat wage and severance package with ANY government job.

  29. JennyMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 6:31pm PST

    This is true. Where is that extra 2.5cents per litre we pay?

  30. steveMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 6:50pm PST

    the real issue is the politico’s not homelessness…tho i agree it is an issue yes it is not key. the homeless are homeless because they gave up on society. most choose to be there not all but most.

    wtf terroirsts? wow got any more conspiracies??? maybe it WAS the other gunman on the grassy knoll too???

    i will say it again,

    translink who owns this bridge, are the one to blame for not doing anything…….write them a letter and complain. it is not the cirty of surrey they have nouthing to with the bridge other than the fact that it is where it lets out the traffic on this side….

    as for ALL the people complaining about businesses not being in surrey?? WTF have you not looked at the strategic plan for the city centre??? it is supposed to be the new hub and um it does take time to build stuff…get a grip, sorry if it takes time to make stuff build it and then rent it……i have been here for 38 yrs.

    i do have some idea. most of the issues on this bridge are not to do with the city.

    my opinion of course……


  31. steveMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 6:51pm PST

    oh yeah sorry for the typos

    i know i know spellcheck…..whatev!

  32. GeoffMonday, January 19th, 2009 — 8:42pm PST

    I like the bridge and think it should stay the way it is once they fix the hobo fire. I think everything should always stay the same.

  33. LynneWednesday, January 21st, 2009 — 4:15pm PST

    @MarkOLM I agree with you about proper sustainable growth in Vancouver. I’m also from Toronto (have lived in Vancouver for almost 6 years) and while I do think Vancouver is still miles ahead of anywhere in Ontario I do feel that the City of Vancouver hasn’t done near enough to ensure the city’s infrastructure meets the needs of the all the developments it keeps approving. With the price of real estate and the rate of taxation here you’d think the city would be rolling in cash. Surely there should be enough to ensure that we at least have enough schools and proper roadways, anyway. This doesn’t even take into account the many, many properties here that are owned by people living off-shore. I look at the half dark, fully “occupied” buildings in Coal Harbour night after night and am amazed. The city is collecting taxes on these places and their so-called “occupants” don’t even utilize our local services. There really isn’t any excuse beyond lack of planning and proper foresight.

  34. Pattullo Bridge To Open Monday » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittSunday, January 25th, 2009 — 7:01pm PST

    […] a week after a fire took out an entire section of this major commuter artery, the Pattullo Bridge will re-open in time for the morning commute tomorrow morning. The replaced […]

  35. Rod SmelserFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 7:14pm PST

    Kye Grace, thanks for helping to support something I have been saying for some time.

    “The City of Surrey has developed and encouraged a city of commuters. They then cry foul when their citizens don’t have adequate bridges to use in their CHOSEN commute that the rest of pay for and only use occasionally.

    In my opinion The City of Surrey relied on high housing prices elsewhere to draw in new citizens with more affordable housing yet in turn did not draw in business and NEW industry to provide these people employment opportunities closer to home. Urban Sprawl abound…”

    Your statements make it very clear that it is indeed the owners and marketers of the most expensive real estate in Canada, in Vancouver, who are worried about Gateway and about Surrey in general. You’re right, the expansion of Surrey, Maple Ridge and others is a response to the presence there of lower priced (I would no longer call it low) housing. Can you please explain to me how that’s wrong?

    Is the consumer of housing services in this nation expected to support the ambitions of those who want to manipulate the housing market, through selective transport and zoning policies, to drive up the non-taxable capital gain in their principal residence?

  36. Kye GraceFriday, March 6th, 2009 — 10:41pm PST


    I have felt this way long before I was involved in Real Estate.

    I have serious concerns and am disgusted with Urban Sprawl. Period. End of Story. Full Stop.

    Google search Urban Sprawl and you will find all you need to know about my concerns.

    All I desire is people given the opportunity to not have to commute which can only benefit the health of our population and the planet.

    I am not answering your other questions because they do not apply to my agenda, my expertise nor am I aware that there is manipulation of housing prices occurring “through selective transport and zoning policies”.

    If this is happening it sounds serious, I wish you the best in bringing this issue to forefront and creating change.


Also on