Gridlock in Vancouver affects Abbotsford businesses.

Gridlock in Vancouver affects Abbotsford businesses.

Metro transit referendum could have Abbotsford implications

Vancouver gridlock affects Valley businesses, and funding plans could impact other transit systems.

As Metro Vancouver voters prepare to vote on a plebiscite that would see a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax pay for billions of dollars worth of transit improvements, the referendum also has implications for the rest of the Valley that go beyond even TransLink’s ambitious plans.

Among a rash of improvements, including 400 more buses across the region, TransLink’s intentions would see a light rail (LRT) line connect Langley City with the SkyTrain system. The sales tax, meanwhile, wouldn’t apply east of Langley.

But for Abbotsford, that closer rapid transit connection – the construction of which could take 12 years – would probably have less of an impact than would a solution to Metro Vancouver’s entrenched transit and funding issues.

Coun. Patricia Ross pointed to a Fraser Valley Regional District study that looked at commuting habits in the Valley and which found Abbotsford to be a relatively self-contained city, with relatively few commuters beyond its neighbours.

Whether that would change much with an improved transit system is unknown, but even an efficient rapid transit connection between Langley and Vancouver is probably unlikely to reduce an Abbotsford resident’s commute time significantly.

What could have an impact, Ross said, is if an improved transit system takes vehicles off Metro Vancouver roads and out of the way of Abbotsford enterprises transporting products through the region.

“We do have a lot of businesses that do need to get their product to markets west and that is often by truck, and they usually need it done in a timely manner, so if transportation improvements are not made to improve congestion, it could cause difficulties for businesses here,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Allan Asaph agreed, noting that disruption to the flow of trucks between the Fraser Valley and Vancouver and its ports impacts businesses in Abbotsford.

The result of the referendum could also have an impact on how British Columbians pay for transit. The proposed 0.5 per cent sales tax is a novel formula and one that, if approved, could be used as a model in other communities. If it fails, which seems more than possible (see related story on page 16), other approaches will have to be considered.

“How they deal with the issues in Vancouver will probably have an effect with how we deal with them out here,” Asaph said.

The chamber has come out in favour of the proposed regional sales tax because that would be a fair way to pay for improvements, he said.

The referendum is being held solely in Metro Vancouver communities in which the proposed transit expansions would take place

Meanwhile, for dreamers who would one day like to see a rapid transit connection between Abbotsford and Vancouver, a Langley LRT line would seem to bring that dream closer to reality.

But that may be premature, Ross said, because the province says Abbotsford does not yet have enough people to support such a service.

Still, there would be more pressure to connect Abbotsford to a Langley LRT line, said John Belec, an associate professor of geography and the environment at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Mission, on the other hand, could see an impact from additional West Coast Express capacity that is proposed.

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