Two and a half years after construction began, two of the three railway overpasses that make up the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor combo project, officially opened on Friday morning.
Along with 196 Street and 54 Avenue on the Langley City-Surrey border, an overpass at 232 Street has also been completed. It has been in operation for about two months. The two combo overpasses opened to traffic for the first time after the ceremony.
The final overpass in the combo project, at 192 Street, is expected to be finished later this year — possibly as early as July.
Another overpass project underway in Langley, the Mufford overpass near Glover Road just north of the Langley Bypass, likely will not open until sometime in 2015.
During a ceremony held at the apex of the 196 Street overpass — under blue skies and in front of a striking mountain vista — representatives from the federal, provincial and three municipal governments, as well as from TransLink and Port Metro Vancouver, praised the completion of the project, and trumpeted the benefits it will offer to both industry and to the general public — from quicker commutes to train whistle cessation.
“It did take a while, but it is (finished) on time and on budget,” said Langley MP Mark Warawa, speaking on behalf of federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt.
With the number and length of trains travelling along the corridor expected to grow dramatically in the coming years, the overpasses are intended to ease traffic congestion, as well as improve safety and promote the efficient movement of goods through an area with a population that is projected to continue growing.
The number of vehicles on roads along the corridor is expected to climb from 380,000 to 560,000 per day by 2021, said TransLink’s chief operating officer, Doug Kelsey.
“Commuters can breathe a huge sigh of relief,” said Langley Township Councillor Bev Dornan, speaking over the noise of a train passing underneath the bridge, which also carries vehicles and cyclists across busy Highway 10.
The 196 Street overpass represents just one section of the Roberts Bank corridor, which stretches 70 km from Deltaport to the eastern border of Langley Township — “arguably the most important 70 kilometres of railroad in our nation,” said Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver.
Construction began in January, 2012, but the need for the overpasses was becoming evident years before that.
Former City of Langley mayor, Peter Fassbender, now Minister of Education and MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, recounted meetings held years ago between all three levels of government and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Most of the conversation centred around who would pay for such a massive project, with the discussion often going in circles, said Fassbender.
The federal government said the province should contribute. The province, in turn, said the municipalities needed to pay a share, he recalled.
“The municipalities said, ‘Who should we ask?’”
It was at one of those meetings that Fassbender pulled a toonie out of his pocket and handed it to David Emerson, who was minister of Pacific Gateway, as seed money to get the project underway.
On Friday, Fassbender pulled out another $2 coin and suggested it could somehow be embedded in the overpass.
“Then every time I drive over, I’ll see if I can find it — without getting into trouble,” Fassbender said.
Speaking last, acting City of Langley Mayor Ted Schaffer acknowledged not everyone finds the idea of a road opening too exciting.
But the opening of the overpasses represents everything from economic growth, to improved trade, lower vehicle emissions and reduced emergency response times.
“What could be more exciting than that?”
Surrey Councillor Mary Martin also spoke on behalf of her city, which is managing the overall combo project.
The total cost of the three overpasses which were officially opened on Friday is $110.4 million. Of that, the federal government contributed $30.2 million as part of the Asia-Pacific Gateway Project.
Another $24.8 million came from the province; $23.1 million from Port Metro Vancouver; $9.7 from Canadian Pacific Railway; $8.8 million from the City of Surrey; $8.3 million from the City of Langley and $5.5 million from the Township.