Opponents of highway expansion have little to cheer about as vehicles are about to start using a new stretch of a major road project that runs along the Fraser River’s south side.
A 10-kilometre-long section of the South Fraser Perimeter Road through north Surrey is set to open to traffic on Saturday (December 1), the B.C. government has announced.
The route, which will be given the name Highway 17, runs from Highway 1 at 176th Street to 136th Street.
It is an eastern section of the South Fraser Perimeter Road project, a roughly 40-kilometre-long, four-lane highway which will eventually stretch from the Port Kells area to southwest Delta. The opening of the new section is coming on the same day as the new Port Mann Bridge opens to eight lanes of traffic.
With a $1.26-billion price tag, the South Fraser Perimeter Road is intended to improve the road system in the region by making it easier for truckers, commuters, and tourists to travel to key destinations like the ferry terminal and the U.S. border. The project is part of the province’s Gateway Program, a plan to improve the flow of commercial and commuter traffic throughout the region.
Activists from across Metro Vancouver have waged a campaign against the project, citing concerns about the potential impact the new highway will have on the climate, neighbourhoods, heritage sites, and agricultural land.
Eric Doherty, a Vancouver activist who opposes the project, said he is disappointed to see the route opening to traffic.
“The opposition to that project, I would say it failed because it was divided. There wasn’t a unified voice opposing the freeway,” Doherty told the Straight by phone today (November 30).
“I would say that the lesson is, if you want to stop one of these projects, you have to be united in wanting to actually stop it,” he said.
However, he said he feels good about the success of related efforts to oppose the North Fraser Perimeter Road and construction of a larger replacement for the Pattullo Bridge.
Doherty also criticized the provincial government for funding projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road while not providing enough support for public transit.
“We’ve got a situation where we’re opening this whole network of mega-freeways and cutting back on transit service. It just shows the priority of the government. They’re acting to help big oil sell their product, rather than acting to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help people get around in a way that they can afford.”
The provincial transportation ministry could not be immediately reached for comment. However, B.C. transportation and infrastructure minister Mary Polak touted the benefits of the project in a statement released today.
"The South Fraser Perimeter Road will help meet the transportation needs of our growing communities and expanding markets by providing a four-lane expressway for commercial, commuter and tourism traffic," Polak said.
"This new road is a huge benefit to families as it will pull commercial traffic away from community roads, easing congestion and improving travel time and safety," the minister said.
While a section of the route is about to open to traffic, Imtiaz Popat, a Surrey activist who has also protested against the highway project, remained defiant. He is hopeful the rest of the road project can be halted and that completed sections of the route could be converted from being used as a highway. The section of the highway from 136th Street in Surrey to Deltaport Way in Delta is scheduled to open in December 2013.
“Just because this part of the perimeter road is opening up doesn’t mean it’s going to get finished,” Popat told the Straight by phone.
“Come the provincial election, we are definitely going to put the pressure on the different parties to review this and to take another look at whether this project makes any sense or [is] feasible and see if there are other alternatives,” he said.
Popat said he hopes that if the New Democrats form government after the May provincial election they will review the project.
However, the NDP transportation critic has discouraged the possibility his party would take such action.
Surrey MLA Harry Bains said his party supports the project overall. He said the route is needed to help trucks travel to and from the Deltaport container terminal while freeing up side streets for other vehicles.
“I think there’s a lot invested in that project already. I don’t think there’s any turning back,” Bains told the Straight by phone.