When Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Francois-Philippe Champagne was 10 minutes late to the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce lunch on Wednesday, the obvious joke someone made was that he could have been on time if the infrastructure between communities in the Fraser Valley was better.
Widening of Highway 1 east from Langley to at least Abbotsford has been on the minds of municipal politicians and others for many years, but the idea is really in the hands of the provincial government.
Coun. Chris Kloot asked Champagne a simple question about his trip to Chilliwack: “Did you get stuck in traffic?”
Champagne responded that they did have travel issues, but pointed out they were more about weather. Still he understands the complaints.
“I have heard very much about the choke points between here and Abbotsford,” he said, adding that federal infrastructure money is in place for B.C., but it’s up to Victoria to prioritize projects.
“The money is already allocated to B.C.”
Pressed on the question in a one-on-one interview with The Progress after the lunch meeting, Champagne said his ministry provides funding and works with the province but Ottawa can’t direct priorities.
“We really rely on local decision-making,” he said. “It’s not for folks in Ottawa to make decisions about what’s best for the people of Chilliwack or the valley. When you are the infrastructure minister and you have projects all across Canada the first thing you do is listen to the consensus that is built locally.”
He said he does have a good relationship with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena, but it’s up to the provincial government to prioritize.
“At the end of the day, this is something for the province of B.C. to decide, obviously in consultation with the local community.”
For years the widening of the highway to Abbotsford has been discussed, but the plan has stalled under the NDP government.
Last September, Chilliwack MLA John Martin renewed the call for highway widening after a Labour Day weekend that saw hundreds of people stuck in holiday traffic.
“One of the big reasons we’ve got transportation and moving problems in the Eastern Fraser Valley is we don’t have our six lanes of highway,” Martin said in a video he posted on his Facebook page.
Champagne made a brief stopover in Chilliwack to meet with local business people and elected officials at The Coast Hotel to talk about his current role with infrastructure but also his prior portfolio, trade.
He was also asked questions on other topics: when tax dollars will trickle down to municipalities from cannabis legalization, and if there are updates on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.