OPINION: Province to blame for lack of Highway 1 widening

“What’s the delay? The answer: the current provincial government” Abbotsford chamber president writes

Traffic jams, accidents, delays, congestion: Everyone in Abbotsford is frustrated with traffic problems on Highway 1.

While capacity is being added between Vancouver and Langley, we are still stuck with a bottleneck from Langley to Abbotsford.

The original Highway 1 was opened in 1962. At that time, the population of Abbotsford was 888 (yes, eight-hundred and eighty-eight!) and Matsqui’s population was 14,293.

Today, 57 years later, the population is nine times that amount: 141,397 (2016 census), yet the four-lane capacity of Highway 1 has not been increased from Langley east.

Some other statistics: Back in 1962, Abbotsford International Airport barely existed. In 2019, it will exceed one million passengers. Abbotsford’s population is growing at 5.9 per cent annually, Chilliwack at 7.5 per cent, and Mission at six per cent.

RELATED: Reading the Highway 1 tea leaves

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As a result, Highway 1 traffic volume is growing at 1.4 per cent per year. Commercial vehicles account for about 8.5 per cent of volume through Abbotsford. So after 57 years of four lanes, it’s clear that Highway 1 is hopelessly outdated and urgently needs upgrading.

We all ask: What’s the delay? The answer: the current provincial government.

Last week the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce hosted a round-table meeting with the federal infrastructure minister, François-Philippe Champagne, and our local MP for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, Jati Sidhu.

Mayor Braun and our municipal government were also there. The clear message is that federal government has funding available and is interested. Our municipal government has always been on board, pushing as well for upgrading.

As a piece of national infrastructure, the cost has to be shared between the provincial and federal governments.

The role of the province is to identify projects that are a priority for partnership with the feds. The recent throne speech in Victoria promised yet more spending on endless social and green initiatives, but nothing on Highway 1.

The current government should be seriously looking at safety and quality of life as reasons for upgrading. It should look at the incredible waste of fuel with resultant emissions from gridlock on Highway 1.

And if it’s serious about addressing housing affordability, it should look at how opening up Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission and Hope can provide cheaper housing options for those working in the Lower Mainland. The province needs to commit funds and get to work with the feds.

Federal dollars and willingness will not last forever. The province needs to cut a deal while the offer stands.

Mark Warkentin is president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce

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