A road-widening plan for 208th Street and other major routes in Willoughby is back on the agenda of Langley Township council after a vote on Monday, Jan. 13.
Council had voted not to move ahead with Councillor Eric Woodward’s plan at their Dec. 2 meeting, facing a number of amendments.
The plan would collect fees from developers to go towards the multi-million dollar cost of widening 208th and other key roads, including those leading to local schools such as R.E. Mountain Secondary.
On Monday, Woodward asked council to have Township staff make a full report on the plan, to help clarify any confusion around how the project would work.
“I’m trying to contain that frustration and present solutions to council,” said Woodward.
The fate of 208th Street has been much discussed in recent years, including in the 2018 civic election. Originally a two-lane rural road, the overpass to Walnut Grove and the addition of thousands of new residents in Willoughby has turned it into one of the busiest streets in the Township.
However, much of the road remains two lanes wide, because current Township policy is to have developers widen the road in front of their land as developments are built. This means 208th Street currently widens and contracts several times on each side between 68th Avenue and the overpass in the north.
Woodward’s request for staff to explain the cost charges plan as it currently exists could revive a proposal to collect money and widen key sections of the road before development takes place.
“I think it’s the beginning of a more in-depth discussion,” said Coun. Petrina Arnason.
Other councillors had mixed feelings, but were willing to take another look at the idea.
Coun. David Davis note that his instinct when confused about a piece of legislation is not to vote for it. If he can understand it better, he might change his mind, he said.
“Let’s give it a try,” said Davis.
All the councillors voted in favour of receiving the new staff presentation, except for Coun. Bob Long.
“It seems there’s been a change of heart at the council table,” Long said. “For me there hasn’t.”
Long pointed to the risks of potentially borrowing $33.5 million for the roads, with the money to be paid back by development cost charges.
“I think there are many risks,” said Long.
He also said he would prefer fixing Fraser Highway, which is also two lanes in many long stretches, to 208th Street.
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh was also concerned about the possibility of borrowing money.
“There are lots of concerns, there are lots of what-ifs in this plan,”
Woodward said there is no mention of borrowing funds in the current plan.
But Whimarsh said that borrowing is a possibility – and that if there is no borrowing, it could take several years to gather enough money through DCCs to start any work at all, and perhaps five to seven years before significant construction could be done.
The date of the presentation was not set at Monday’s meeting.
Woodward noted that the cost of the land the Township would need to purchase to widen 208th and other major roads Willoughby has been increasing rapidly.
“The latest staff report in 2018, and now land costs are $46 million,” he said, up from $16 million in 2015. “Inaction and doing nothing increased the cost of the problem by $30 million.”