After five years of construction, the Lower Mainland's South Fraser Perimeter Road is now open, and B.C.'s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone called it a Christmas gift to those living south of the Fraser River.

"Now I know many people south of the Fraser have been waiting for this day for quite some time," Stone said at the ceremony on Saturday.

"The SFPR will provide an efficient and convenient route for commercial traffic and commuters and tourists. It will actually connect every major crossing of the Fraser River, giving everyone who lives here a lot more choices," Stone said.

B.C.'s newest highway reaches 37 kilometres, from Deltaport Way in Southwest Delta to 176th Street in Surrey and is now known at Highway 17. The old Highway 17 in Delta has become Highway 17A.

The province says the SFPR, which has a posted speed limit of 80 km/h, could cut travel time for commuters on their way to the Tsawwassen B.C. Ferries terminal, estimating that travel time from Highway 1 in Surrey would now be less than 30 minutes. The SFPR also estimates that drivers could travel from South Delta to Maple Ridge via the SFPR and the Golden Ears Bridge in about 30 minutes.

Delta Mayor Lois E. Jackson said the highway will help keep commercial and residential traffic separate in her city.

"The new route provides greater access to the Tilbury industrial area, taking commercial trucks off Highway 99 and River Road. This will make for safer, smoother travel for our residents throughout the community," she said in a written statement.

Road a link for trade, industry

Stone, who called the highway a "game-changer," said it was crucial to B.C.'s economic development and would better connect port and rail facilities to the U.S. border and the B.C. Interior.

Delta-Richmond East MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay said the new highway would facilitate international trade and contribute to job creation and economic growth across Canada, including the Lower Mainland.

"The completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road is good news for the Metro Vancouver region. It means a better road network and more capacity to transport goods to and from fast-growing markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region," said Findlay, in a written statement.

The federal government contributed $365 million toward the $658-million SFPR project.

The B.C. government estimates 7,000 jobs could be created in Delta and Surrey as a result of industrial development along areas with access to the road.

With files from the CBC's Stephanie Mercier