Fraser Valley mayors call on province to widen Highway 1 through to Chilliwack
Cities cite concerns over congestion and safety, but expert says passenger rail should be considered
Mayors in the Fraser Valley are renewing calls for the province to widen the Trans-Canada Highway to six lanes between Langley and Chilliwack.
The highway currently switches between two and three lanes in either direction between Langley and Abbotsford, and drops to two lanes each way east of Abbotsford.
The mayors say they want at least a consistent three lanes each way, citing traffic snarls and collisions as major impediments to the movement of people and products in the region.
"This is one of the issues that we continually hear from our constituents," said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
"They're frustrated with driving, they're frustrated with spending time away from their family and their home and losing time to enjoy a peaceful lifestyle while they're bumper to bumper on the highway."
The municipalities have written letters to the province asking for the expansion. They say the Fraser Valley's fast-growing population means a lot more people are using the highway.
Gaetz and other mayors say it's not just commuters who are stuck in traffic, but also trucks carrying goods and services in and out of the region.
They're also emphasizing safety issues, saying that the change in the flow of traffic from three to two lanes is causing collisions.
'It's just getting worse'
In March, the previous B.C. Liberal provincial government promised to expand the highway from 216th Street to 264th Street in Langley, with the possibility of expanding it to Abbotsford in the future.
But Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese says most of those plans have been put on hold since the NDP government came into power.
"We don't want them to forget about it. This is important," Froese said. "It's not getting better, it's just getting worse."
In a statement, the province said work on the $59-million expansion of Highway 1 from 202nd to 216th Street through Langley is "well underway."
As for continuing to widen east of that section, the province said it's "looking at the Highway 1 corridor as a whole and making decisions on the best way to cut down on congestion and increase safety."
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said he's waiting for the provincial budget in February.
"I do not yet know where the prioritization lies with this government. They've not said that they won't build it," he said.
Transit in the Valley
But at least one transportation expert says the mayors should be looking at options that would be cheaper and safer in the long term.
Gordon Lovegrove, an engineering professor at UBC's Okanagan campus, says studies show that expanding highways and increasing traffic flow only leads to more accidents.
It's also more expensive than building transit infrastructure, he said.
"So you're losing in terms of lives lost. You're losing in terms of taxpayer money," Lovegrove said.
"The mayors of the Valley, in my humble expert opinion, would be investing in a much smarter way if they just looked at something called regional passenger rail."
Lovegrove said electric passenger rail costs about $3 million per mile to build using existing infrastructure. Urban highways, he says, cost around $11 million per mile.
The transit option would also reduce emissions and save agricultural land, Lovegrove said.
Former passenger railway line
There was a passenger rail system that travelled from Chilliwack to Vancouver up until the mid-20th century — and Braun said there may be an appetite for it today.
BC Hydro owns the railway, Braun said, but it was leased out to Southern Railway for 99 years during Bill Vander Zalm's premiership in the late 1980s.
As for short-term measures like more buses, Braun said there's no point to put them on a congested highway with no HOV lane.
Fraser Valley mayors have said the railway is a possibility, but for now it would be cost prohibitive and their first priority is to expand the highway.
"I advocate for the widening of the highway every time I meet a government official," Braun said.