The provincial government needs to seriously consider further transportation improvements between Vancouver and the municipalities of the Fraser Valley, says one prominent local Mayor.
In an interview with Daily Hive, Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun offered a vision of light rail transit running down the median of Highway 1.
As such a service would have its own uninterrupted right-of-way, it could be fast and cheaper to build than SkyTrain and Surrey’s project of light rail transit running through city streets.
Similar to other light rail and commuter rail systems elsewhere in the world, to help support ridership, park-and-ride stations could be built next to stations across the highway, with park-and-ride facilities connected to the station by a pedestrian overpass.
Alternatively, TransLink’s existing West Coast Express (WCE) commuter rail service could be extended from Mission to the Fraser Valley, but there are some challenges in making it an attractive service to use.
Braun, who used to own a construction company that helped build the region’s first SkyTrain line, says the WCE is currently an incomplete service as it lacks frequency and only runs in the peak hour direction with no trains mid-day.
“It only works for people who are going to stay in Vancouver all day, although that is an option for some people,” he said. “But West Coast Express doesn’t work for people who want to come back in the middle of the day.”
Any expansion of WCE service would require a renegotiation of the contract with CP Rail, as the WCE leases railway usage time from the private company.
“In all likelihood, CP Rail will be only focused on freight,” he said. “They are going to look after freight as supposed to passengers, but beefing it up would be an option and I think you’d see the ridership improve dramatically, although parking at the park-and-ride in Mission could become an issue.”
Without improved rail transit, Braun says residents in the Fraser Valley will have to continue relying on their cars and the freeway into the city.
He says trips to downtown Vancouver from Abbotsford now take him between 1.5 to 2 hours during the peak morning rush period, and traffic conditions will only continue to escalate with the region’s housing affordability crisis pushing more people out of the city and further out into the suburban municipalities.
And in recent years, there has also been an uptick in the number of recreational travellers and tourists driving to destinations in the Fraser Valley and the BC Interior.
One other option to improving transportation, says Braun, is for the provincial government to proceed with the $236-million plan of widening Highway 1 from four lanes to six lanes between 216 Street in Surrey and Whatcom Road in Abbotsford.
Only the widening of the freeway from 202 Street to 216 Street is currently underway, but he does not believe the project’s future phases are stalled.
“I’m hoping this government will do the right thing and continue the freeway widening project of the previous government,” he said.
“They have a learning curve, and they are trying to assess what they have inherited. I’m not frustrated yet, but I will be frustrated if the answer is ‘No’. But I totally get that they have to review the project, and I’m sure they’re doing that.”
Braun notes that a widened highway could allow the region’s primary arterial route to finally accommodate HOV and bus lanes, which are not possible with the existing configuration of two lanes in each direction.
Rail transit or a widened highway would also create make more space on the road for freight trucks who rely on the Trans-Canada Highway for access to and from the region.
“Everyday it’s a parking lot with the amount of traffic. Transport trucks and goods that are destined for Metro Vancouver come from the highway from points east, and they’re sitting on the freeway idling everyday,” he continued.
“There is an unseen cost to consumers in Metro Vancouver because if it takes twice as long to get into town, somebody is paying for this because the trucks aren’t working for free.”
According to the BC Ministry of Transportation, over 80,000 vehicles per day use the section of Highway 1 between 202 Street and Abbotsford.
The 2016 census indicates about 300,000 people live in the Fraser Valley, which includes Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Hope, and a number of smaller jurisdictions.