Infrastructure upgrades, homeless projects and planning on deck for 2017

The new year will see a range of projects tackled in Abbotsford in 2017, ranging from infrastructure improvements to social housing.

The coming year will see: the City of Abbotsford work on developing the city centre neighbourhood plan for South Fraser Way (top left); a supportive housing building on Gladys Avenue open (top right); negotiations continuing over the Vye Road overpass (bottom right); and the upgrading of crosswalks at several locations around the city.

The coming year will see: the City of Abbotsford work on developing the city centre neighbourhood plan for South Fraser Way (top left); a supportive housing building on Gladys Avenue open (top right); negotiations continuing over the Vye Road overpass (bottom right); and the upgrading of crosswalks at several locations around the city.

As the calendar flips into 2017, there are a range of projects on deck that will change how people get around the city, what services are available to those in need of help, and even how Abbotsford will grow and develop for years to come.

Major work will begin on the Marshall Road extension to connect King Road to Mt. Lehman Road in the city’s west. The $9.1 million proposal was approved last January, despite the objections of some local residents. It is hoped the new east-west route will remove thousands of vehicles a day from Fraser Highway.

Work will also begin on the $22 million widening of Mt. Lehman Road from two lanes to four from Simpson Road to the airport. The city is paying for about $2 million of the total cost, with the provincial and federal governments providing the remainder.

Other infrastructure improvements will include upgrades to crosswalks and rail crossings around the city.

Years after it was first announced, a planned $25 million rail overpass on Vye Road remains on hold, with the city awaiting an agreement with affected rail companies.

The city has also budgeted $3.9 million in 2017 to construct a pedestrian/cycling overpass above Highway 1 that would connect Salton Road just east of McCallum Road. Prior to construction, the city plans to hold a public information meeting early in the new year.

The transportation advisory committee will also discuss the development of a roadside memorial policy.

Social issues

The Gladys Avenue supportive housing project is anticipated to open early this year. The four-storey facility includes 30 units for those who are homeless or at risk of homeless, along with a caretaker unit. Years in the making, the building, which will be run by Abbotsford Community Services, will also include services for residents.

And as the weather warms in the coming months, the future of the Riverside Road temporary winter shelter will likely be raised. Funding for the 40-unit shelter – which is run by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society – ends in the spring. Originally scheduled to last just the winter of 2015/16, funding for the facility – which is usually at or near capacity – was renewed last year until 2017.

At a recent meeting, Coun. Les Barkman asked about whether the city has approached BC Housing to continue funding the shelter. Mayor Henry Braun replied that any such inquiry would be made after the opening of the supportive housing project, which received more than $5 million from the province.

With spending announcements generally increasing prior to an election, the fact that voters across the province will be heading to the polls on May 9 could also affect the government’s thinking on the matter.

A homeless count conducted every three years is also scheduled to take place in March, while the city plans to roll out two key initiatives – a co-ordinated intake and referral system, and a tool to connect those in need of housing to landowners – in the first half of the year.

Behind the scenes

Some of the biggest projects on deck in 2017 won’t be immediately apparent to residents.

City staff will be spending much of their time on work that was set in motion with this past spring’s adoption of Abbotsford’s new official community plan (OCP).

In particular, the city will begin neighbourhood plans for Abbotsford’s historic downtown and newly designated “city centre” along South Fraser Way that will shape how those key commercial corridors will develop over the coming decades.

In a variety of departments, staff will be working towards the completion of master plans for a variety of departments, including transportation.

That document will determine the future of the city’s roads, bike lanes, and other infrastructure that moves people around. The plan is used to prioritize future capital projects, including road-widening and other initiatives.

The city is also undertaking a study of its industrial land supply that could pave the way for a request to move property out of the agricultural land reserve either along the city’s border with Langley just north of Highway 1 or north of Abbotsford International Airport.

Private sector

Perhaps more than anything government does or doesn’t do, private sector and economic developments in 2017 will be key in shaping the future direction of Abbotsford and its residents.

The once-red-hot housing market has cooled somewhat heading into the year, but it’s unclear whether prices will drop further or stabilize.

Abbotsford will see several rental housing developments completed in 2017, with others slated to begin construction. The strength of the market will likely influence when work begins on projects currently in the planning stages. The same is likely to hold true for single-family-home developments if demand significantly cools in that sector.

Similarly, the new OCP envisions a compact city centre, with smaller blocks and with more walkable and pedestrian-friendly roads. But for that to happen, the city will need developers to step forward with new plans for their properties, and a thriving economy makes it much more likely for that to happen.