Clogged artery: Congestion getting worse on Highway 1

Six-lane widening through Abbotsford is years away as statistics show traffic is rising on busy corridor.

Statistics show congestion on Highway 1 through Abbotsford is getting worse.

Statistics show congestion on Highway 1 through Abbotsford is getting worse.

Elizabeth Wesley has spent more time than she cares to sitting on Highway 1 in her 2001 PT Cruiser waiting for traffic congestion to clear.

“It’s getting worse and worse,” the Abbotsford resident recently told The News.

Wesley estimates she has witnessed at least 20 accidents in the seven years she’s been driving along the stretch of Hwy. 1 that runs through Abbotsford. When traffic was brought to a grinding halt last month by several mid-afternoon collisions that snarled up Highway 1 heading eastbound, Wesley was one of several drivers wo vented on social media, saying it’s time the road was widened into Abbotsford.

“We really need those three lanes that stop in Langley,” Wesley wrote.

Jason Johnson added, “It’s frustrating having a two-lane highway from here to Surrey,” urging “(it’s) time to update our outdated highway.”

“There’s always clogs between Abby and Langley,” Cuyler W. Biller posted. “I affectionately refer to it as ‘The Aldergrove Triangle’.”

While the provincial government has a 10-year-plan that calls for a six-lane highway between Langley and Abbotsford, it will be another year before initial planning work is completed and residents get their first look at the design.

The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has just completed the first phase of the preliminary planning and engineering work, which included developing and reviewing options for the future six-laning of Highway 1 from 216 Street to Highway 11.

In a statement issued in response to a News query, the ministry said the next steps will “involve evaluating how the project will be constructed and how traffic will be managed during construction.”

After that process is completed this fall, public engagement is expected to begin in the spring of 2017, the ministry said. There has been no indication from the ministry when construction would begin or how long it would take, but it would likely be a multi-year process.

Consultation recently wrapped up this spring on a $59-million project in Langley to build a new interchange at 216th Street and widen the highway between there and 202nd Street. Construction on that project is expected to take 18 months.

Meanwhile, ministry stats show both the amount of traffic and number of accidents on the Hwy. 1 corridor through Abbotsford is only getting worse.

Traffic is growing at 1.4 per cent per year, and the increased congestion is slowing median traffic speeds, which can drop to 60 km/h near intersections during peak periods.

Figures provided by ICBC show the number of crashes has risen from a low of 140 in 2011 to highs of 190 in both 2012 and 2013 (the most recent year figures were available) – an average of roughly one crash every two days.

The number of injured victims ranged from a low of 46 in 2011 to a high of 63 in 2012.

Roughly one out of every four were described as “seriously injured victims,” people who require at least an overnight stay in hospital.

Commercial trucks account for approximately 8.5 per cent of the total traffic on the Abbotsford section of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Louise Yako, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) said the increasing congestion means higher cost to consumers because trucking companies have to spend more time and money and those costs get passed on.

“It takes longer to pick up and drop off,” Yako said.

The BCTA represents more than 1,200 truck and motor coach fleets and more than 250 suppliers who operate about 13,000 vehicles and employ 26,000 people.

When it comes to a cure, the association thinks it may require more than just adding additional lanes.

“We need to be having a region-wide conversation about mobility pricing,” Yako said.

Also known as congestion pricing, the use of user fees to reduce traffic congestion by encouraging drivers to travel outside peak periods has proven successful in cities like London, Milan and Singapore, which reported traffic volume reductions of 10 per cent to 30 per cent after fees were introduced.

Unlike bridge tolls, which are usually earmarked to fund construction of the structure, congestion fees are used to discourage drivers from entering specific urban areas during busy times.

While the charges are effective, they are also controversial, generating complaints from drivers who usually feel they already pay substantial amounts in gas taxes, insurance registration and other fees.

When the BCTA issued a call for mobility pricing late last year, the association conceded that it would be “virtually impossible” in the short term to set up such a system (There is no indication that type of fee is currently in the cards for the Highway 1 expansion).

However, research suggests that approach would do a lot more to reduce congestion than widening the highway will.

Adding road capacity usually means increases in the number of vehicles and no improvements in congestion, said John Belec, associate professor of urban geography at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).

It’s referred to as the rule of “induced demand,” where added capacity on a road is almost aways filled up shortly after it’s added.

“Generally, the data supports the view that expanding roadways does not fix the problem of overcapacity in the long- or even medium-term,” Belec said.

“However, there appears to be one exception and that is if the new capacity comes with an entry fee,” Belec told The News.

Belec thinks it’s time the province started a public discussion on alternatives to the car on the Highway 1 corridor.

“The express bus service that links Chilliwack to Langley via Abbotsford is a good start, but the future is urban rail,” Belec said.

The new Port Mann bridge was designed to accommodate rapid transit (and the bridge that will replace the George Massey tunnel will, too) but when is unknown

Currently, there are no forms of rail rapid transit being considered for the Port Mann Bridge, either in the Mayors’ Vision, or the Regional Transit Strategy, the two documents which outline the mid- and long-term plans for transit investment in the region.