COLUMN: Relief from congestion still years down the road

There is more congestion in the South of the Fraser region than anywhere else in B.C. The problem is only going to get worse, for at least the next six years.

The region includes not only Surrey, White Rock and Delta, but also Langley and Fraser Valley communities, including Abbotsford and Chilliwack. The wide definition of the area is necessary when discussing transportation. Because of traffic and people movement, all parts of the region are affected.

The two most congested routes are the freeways – Highways 1 and 99. Highway 91, which includes the Alex Fraser Bridge, is a close third.

The most regular choke points are portions of the routes where the infrastructure is more than 50 years old – the four-lane stretch of Highway 1 from Langley to Hope, and the Massey Tunnel on Highway 99 (ironically, named for the MLA who prompted it, Delta Social Credit MLA George Massey. His term in office ended in 1960).

On Thursday, April 25, Premier John Horgan was in Langley to announce additional HOV lanes between 216 and 264 Streets in Langley – one of the daily choke points.

He said improvements to Highway 1 will be undertaken in “digestible chunks,” and that is the only way they can possibly take place. Governments cannot come up with billions of dollars for transportation projects in one year, and even if they could, there wouldn’t be enough workers to build them all at once.

On the same day, Metro Vancouver mayors announced that they had sent a letter to the premier, proposing a plan for the Massey Tunnel replacement project. The BC Liberals had proposed a toll bridge, and a minimal amount of preliminary work took place before the election two years ago. That proposal was opposed by almost all mayors, except Delta’s Lois Jackson. The NDP campaigned against that project, and plans for that crossing have been under study since the election.

The BC Liberals had also announced in March, 2017 plans to expand Highway 1 as far as Whatcom Road in Abbotsford. Former transportation minister Todd Stone said Friday that project was tender-ready at that time.

The change in government, and change in transportation priorities, significantly delayed both proposals. The Highway 1 project will not be complete until 2025. The Massey Tunnel replacement may not be complete until 2030, according to Delta Mayor George Harvie. The mayors would like it to be complete no later than 2026.

One piece of good news – much more federal money is being made available for these projects than ever before. The federal government is paying for almost half of the Highway 1 widening project, and it appears it will assist with the Massey Tunnel project as well. It has also committed large sums to transit improvements.

Transit isn’t offering any additional relief to congestion in this area at present. The first phase of the SkyTrain project along Fraser Highway, likely to be built in phases, won’t be complete before 2025. Many bus routes South of the Fraser are among the most congested in the region, and transit service in parts of Langley and further east – particularly along the major corridors – is almost non-existent. One lonely bus route runs from Abbotsford and Chilliwack to the Carvolth interchange in Langley, a few times each day.

Increasing congestion is also partially due to some uncomfortable truths. Many people have been forced to move to Abbotsford and Chilliwack, because they can’t afford housing within Metro Vancouver. Rents have shot up and buying is out of the question for many.

If they have to move that far away, they have to drive. The costs of fuel have shot up dramatically, eating away at what little disposable income they have.

There is no relief in sight for any of these issues. Life in this area is more unaffordable than it has ever been.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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