The four-lane Port Mann Bridge was built in 1964 when the population of Greater Vancouver was just 800,000. ((B.C. government))

The B.C. government has given the go-ahead to the Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 expansion project.

Environment Minister Barry Penner made the announcement in Vancouver Thursday after the $1.5-billion project passed a provincial environment assessment.

A selection process will begin to choose a construction contractor who will adhere to the environmental management planning put forth in the assessment, Penner said.

"A successful proponent is expected to be chosen this summer, with construction starting in the fall," he said in a release.

The huge project includes constructing a bridge adjacent to the existing Port Mann Bridge and widening Highway 1.


A futuristic view of a twinned Port Mann Bridge that will connect the City of Vancouver and Langley. ((B.C. government))

It also involves upgrading interchanges and improving safety between McGill Street in Vancouver and 216th Street in Langley, a distance of approximately 37 kilometres.

The project is part of the province's $3-billion Gateway Program established in 2003 in response to the impact of growing regional congestion

Opposition transportation critic Maurine Karagianis said building a new bridge and widening the highway is not a long-term solution.

"The reality is that a new bridge will simply be as congested the day it opens as it is today," the NDP MLA said on Thursday.

Environmentalists want the government to invest in public transit, arguing more roads mean more cars and an increase in greenhouse gases.

But Michael McBratney of Get Moving BC, a group that supports twinning the Port Mann Bridge, said it's not realistic to expect transit to solve all the problems.

"I think it's a good news story and it puts us a big step closer to getting the project underway," he said.