Members of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce got a peek behind the curtain at an upcoming Highway 1 widening project and learned that any hope they might hold for a provincial highway through south Langley has a slim chance of being realized in the foreseeable future.
The revelations came Tuesday night during the Chamber’s annual Langley Leadership Panel discussion at the Coast Hotel. The conversation was formed as a write-in Q and A session, with Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman, Langley MLA Mary Polak, Township mayor Jack Froese and City mayor Ted Schaffer.
Growth management — with a particular focus on transportation — dominated the discussion, as panelists fielded questions about potential transit routes to light industrial areas and the future of Langley’s main east-west transportation corridors.
Asked whether any further expansion of Highway 1 is planned and, if so, when and to where, Coleman told the gathering that an official announcement is forthcoming.
He offered a bit of insight in his remarks, however, by indicating that the long-term focus of the project will be the stretch of highway between 216 Street and Whatcom Road in Abbotsford.
Although no official announcement has yet been made, the pieces are being put in place, said Langley MLA Mary Polak, as she addressed the same question a few minutes later.
The fact that the new 216 interchange design includes an on-ramp to an eastbound HOV lane is indicative that the government has had this in its long-term planning, Polak told the crowd.
“We’re good at executing on the transportation infrastructure that we’ve planned.
“You can rest assured, when Rich talks about our plans and hearing something soon, you’ll be hearing that sooner rather than later.”
Future of 16 Avenue
The future of another major corridor through Langley — 16 Avenue — was also raised, with the question of whether the busy route could one day be designated a provincial highway.
Polak said it’s a question that’s been asked a number of times and has been looked at very seriously.
She said the Ministry of Transportation and TransLink together carried out an extensive study, but the answer doesn’t look promising.
One reason, she said, is that to widen 16 Avenue would “take a whole lot of ALR land, and that’s problematic for any highway project.”
Allocating funding for transportation infrastructure is all about setting priorities, Polak added.
“If we’re going to look at … are you going put your money into six-laning things all the way out the Valley, or are you going to put money into four-laning 16th and turning it into a provincial highway, you pretty quickly come down to saying, ‘I’d rather put it into Highway 1.”
Polak added while this isn’t to say the idea is dead forever, “In the grand scheme of things, 16 just does not look very promising in that regard.”
Froese acknowledged that development of 16 Avenue into a provincial highway is not something that’s likely to happen anytime soon, but said it’s a conversation that has to be started.
The route is a major connector that runs through three municipalities in two regional districts, affecting an airport and multiple border crossings, said Froese.
He’s discussed its future with both the city of Abbotsford and the city of Surrey and said a study was done that included all three municipalities, the province, TransLink and ICBC. It looked at a way to address safety concerns and move goods efficiently between Highway 99 and Highway 1.
“The study came back and said it was about a $270 million project to do everything, and that didn’t count the land acquisitions.”
Of that, he said, the Township’s share would be about $170 million.
“We’re saying that’s a big amount of cash that is put onto one municipality for a road that really has a regional significance.”
TransLink currently funds major road networks throughout the region, including 16 Avenue, Froese said.
“However, I’ve advanced it to the Minister of Transportation to consider looking at 16 avenue as a provincial highway. As Mary said, that’s not going to happen today, but I think the conversation has to be started because it’s a large burden on our taxpayers and it’s a very important road.”
In the meantime, Froese said, the Township has already taken steps toward making 16 Avenue safer, including approving the installation of traffic signals at major intersections and the construction of pull-outs, where RCMP can park to conduct speed enforcement along the busy route.
“We want to make sure that it’s safe, and the people who live down there,that it’s not going to impact them severely.”
Panelists were also questioned about the potential for transit service to Gloucester Industrial Park, where employers have reportedly had difficulty filling job vacancies because of the lack of bus service in the area.
What plans, if any, they were asked, are in place to remedy the situation.
Coleman replied that transit has always been a bit of a challenge in that area, because people come by car from up and down the Valley.
“Gloucester has always been a bit of a conundrum for us because we’ve never been able to establish the passenger load that would justify the bus.
“We’ve not had a consistent flow of people.”
“Transit ridership is about density,” said Polak
“And what’s going to get people’s hackles up at a public hearing more than anything else? Density.
As she travels around the Lower Mainland in her role as Environment Minister, Polak said people regularly say two things to her that are “absolutely incompatible.”
“They will say, ‘I want to keep my one-and-a-half, two-and-a-half acre property.’
“The next thing they say is, ‘I want transit to come to my house.’”
“It’s a question of how do we get transit to various communities, neighbourhoods and industrial job lands,” said Froese, noting Gloucester was planned in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“In today’s world, looking at planning, I don’t know that we’d put an industrial park in an area where we don’t have services.”
The problem of a lack of transit isn’t limited to industrial parks, said Froese.
Council’s priority today is trying to get bus routes into areas where the density already exists.
Bus service was only established along 208 Street last fall, he noted.
“With all the population on 208 Street, you can see how hard it is to get a new bus route. We finally got it there, (and) the whole area was planned to be transit-oriented.”
Froese told the crowd he was waiting for Wednesday’s federal funding announcement to see whether there would be any money in it for transit expansion.
Communities south of the Fraser have traditionally got the short end of the stick when it comes to transit, said Schaffer.
With two universities, a large mall, a hospital and an airport in Langley, in addition to UFV, High Street mall and the Abbotsford airport immediately to the east, he challenged the province to bring some type of rapid transit out toward the Langleys.
“Why don’t you guys think about what the future is. That could be 25 years from now,” he said.
“So my colleague (Froese) and I, we’re not just looking at our region, but we’re looking beyond. And it’s not just our lives, but our children and grandchildren’s lives we’re looking towards.
“There’s only so many dollars to go around, and we realize that.”
But building transit is only one piece of the puzzle, said Schaffer.
“One of the sticklers in transportation is the operating costs.
“The Metro Vancouver area — whatever comes out … hopefully it will come out — will have to pay for the operating. So it’s not just the dollars we get from province or feds … somebody’s got to pick up operating for that.”