The Alex Fraser Bridge will get a seventh lane opening up in spring 2018 following a $70-million investment by the federal and provincial government announced in Delta Thursday.
“These improvements are expected to save between 12-16 minutes for southbound traffic in the afternoon and approximately six minutes for northbound traffic in the morning,” B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said.
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The new lane will be created by reducing the width of the six current lanes and removing the shoulders. A moveable barrier will also be used to create a counterflow system to accommodate the morning and evening rush hours.
“It is very similar to a system that has been successfully used on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for about 18 months now,” said Stone. The Golden Gate Bridge barrier system cost about $30 million for 13,340 feet of barrier.
According to transportation ministry spokesperson Danielle Pope, the Alex Fraser is using moveable barriers instead of the electronic counterflow system at the Massey Tunnel and the Lions Gate Bridge because it is considered the safer option.
“An electronic counter-flow is not considered feasible for the Alex Fraser Bridge due to the physical space requirements to safely accommodate transfer lanes or auxiliary lanes at both ends of the counter-flow system,” said Pope.
The federal government will fund $34 million and the province will pick up $36 million for the project, which will include the extra lane, a moveable barrier to direct traffic flow and 13 new signal boards to let commuters know how traffic is ahead.
Stone said the new Alex Fraser Bridge lane width will be similar to that currently on the Oak Street and Ironworkers Memorial Bridge but still wider than the Pattulo bridge. The speed limit on the Alex Fraser will be reduced to 70 kilometres per hour once the seventh lane is installed.
He said the province does not have any plans to toll the Alex Fraser Bridge as a result of the added lane but that the province’s tolling policy would need to be looked at once a new tolled 10-lane bridge is built to replace the George Massey Tunnel.
“Should Translink and the Mayors Council move forward with a replacement of the Pattulo… that will be a tolled structure which would leave the Alex Fraser as the only un-tolled structure and we’ve said that would render the existing tolling policy in need of updating,” said Stone.
WATCH: No tolls on the Alex Fraser, says Todd Stone
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who was on site for the announcement, remains in favour of a “buck a bridge” option.
“I would like to have that studied. It really appeals to people because it’s just $1,” said Jackson.
“I know that there’s contracts to be contended with but maybe if we look at consolidating it in some form we could go for buck a bridge and then you go from where you are to where you have to go in a straight line.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said that while the board is happy with the additional lane, uneven tolls still pose an inconvenience to commerce travelling across the Fraser River.
Businesses transporting product can’t rely on the Lower Mainland’s transit system, she added.
“It takes time to deliver the product from point a to point if you’re going around in odd routes to avoid a toll – and time is money,” Huberman said.
However, Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington says that the extra Alex Fraser lane will only drive more people to that bridge, instead of to the Massey Bridge, whose tolls are needed to pay for its construction.Those aren’t the only transportation moves by the province for the south of the Fraser region. Delta North MLA Scott Hamilton will be gathering stakeholder input to develop a vision for transportation priorities South of the Fraser.