Abbotsford turns to Plan B to fix Fraser Highway congestion

Funding sought for $7 million project to alleviate persistent traffic issues

The city has a new plan to ease, if not solve, persistent traffic problems along Fraser Highway.

Now it just needs funding from the province.

With widening the road likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and unlikely in the short term, the city has turned to a cheaper Plan B.

For $7 million, the city wants to construct around two kilometres of centre turn lanes at key choke points, extend four left-turn lanes, and construct several new right-turn lanes.

Mayor Henry Braun said the plan isn’t the perfect fix, but could still substantially reduce congestion. “When I first saw this [plan] I thought, ‘Wow, this is quite clever,’ ” he said at Monday’s council meeting. “The flow of traffic will be much improved from what it is.”

Coun. Brenda Falk noted that the improvements would also likely help farmers who live in the area and find it hard to cross the busy road in slower tractors.

The city is hoping to cover the bulk of the project’s cost through federal and provincial gas tax funds. Council voted Monday to apply for $6 million of funding – the maximum possible through the Strategic Priorities Fund, a stream aimed at large, regional, or innovative projects. In 2015, the city received $4.3 million in funding for an upgrade to the JAMES water treatment plant.

A staff report says the improvements “are expected to provide acceptable traffic operations until additional improvements are required by the 2025 horizon year.”

The city has identified the widening of the road as one of its priorities, although the cost to do so means the city would need help from senior levels of government, Braun has said.

While originally a provincial highway, the road was turned over to the city more than 15 years ago. In 2014, the city’s then-general manager of engineering said the cost to expand the route to four lanes was estimated at between $30 and $40 million. In November of that year, in response to a provincial call for input into its own 10-year transportation plan, the city identified the widening of the route to five lanes as its fourth priority.

Fraser Highway was not included in that provincial plan and the call for a fifth turning lane seems likely to push the cost of widening the highway well above $40 million.

The city has included $20 million for an eventual widening in its 2017-2021 financial plan. A staff report notes “this was only a budget allowance for the ultimate Fraser Highway widening project which staff will be presenting to council at a later date and we will be hoping to secure a significant portion of the budget through senior level of government grants.”

Such capital projects are often budgeted for one year, then pushed into subsequent years as partners are sought, as in the case of the Vye Road overpass, which has been included in the city’s budget for several years.