The four-laning of the 208 Street overpass, which was completed in May, is an accepted and welcome part of the Township of Langley’s transportation infrastructure.
The quiet and eager acceptance is quite a contrast to the initial announcement in late 1996 or early 1997 that an overpass for 208 Street would be built. The overpass would close a gap between Willoughby and Walnut Grove which had been severed when the 401 freeway (now Highway 1) was built in the early 1960s, and 208 Street was stub-ended, north and south of the new freeway.
The new overpass was seen by many, in the highly-charged political atmosphere of that time, as being nothing more than a sop to developers who had backed the Langley Leadership Team. The LLT had taken control of Township council and the school board in the November, 1996 elections.
It is important to remember that development in Willoughby had not yet taken place. While a small amount was planned or underway on the slope above the Willowbrook shopping area, there was none along 208 Street.
At the time, 208 Street did not connect to the Willowbrook area either. It ran from about 66 Avenue to 84 Avenue, and was a local connecting street. Properties in Willoughby were almost all acreages, with a few active farms among them. Development had been proposed for the area, but details on what it would look like were sketchy.
The main rationale given by then-mayor John Scholtens for building the overpass was the need to connect Willoughby and Walnut Grove and, most importantly, provide an alternative to the two-lane 200 Street overpass. Traffic on 200 Street, particularly south of the freeway, was badly congested during every rush hour. The province had promised, but not delivered, a replacement 200 Street overpass.
Interestingly enough, the province began work on the new 200 Street overpass within a year or so, after the Township made its announcement about 208 Street. While the 200 Street overpass design was controversial then, and traffic still remains quite congested during rush hours, it moves far more traffic that the old overpass ever could have.
The new 208 Street overpass opened in early 1999. It was an immediate success, and proved to be very helpful to local people wanting to avoid both the regular traffic delays along 200 Street, and additional delays brought on by construction of the new overpass there.
Development did start to come to Willoughby as well. The overpass was not directly responsible for that, but the better access made development there more feasible. It took a decade or so, but gradually housing developments started to sprout up along or near the 208 Street corridor. As housing prices have continued to rise so dramatically, much more of that housing has been in the form of more-affordable townhouses and apartments.
The density of the Willoughby area is much higher than anyone could have imagined in the mid-1990s. There are many factors, but the overpass again likely played at least a small role in that.
What was missing along the 208 Street corridor until last year was transit service. Transit service in the Willoughby area some excellent opportunities for Langley residents to connect to other parts of the region by transit.
The building of the 208 Street overpass in the late 1990s was a visionary and far-sighted move. The expansion to four lanes was necessary, and Langley residents from all areas continue to benefit greatly from the additional link across the freeway.
Frank Bucholtz is a former Langley Times editor. His opinions on subjects related to the South Fraser region can be found at bucholtz.blogspot.ca.