Colleen Clark, executive director of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, says widening of the freeway from 216th Street to Whatcom Road is imperative. (Roxanne Hooper/Langley Advance)

VIDEO: Widen the freeway now, Langley chamber insists

Business advocates describe cancelling bridge tolls and highway expansion as ‘disappointing.’

Transportation is a huge issue for the present and future growth of business in Langley, and the chamber sees it as its job to continue lobbying for change.

This is a message Colleen Clark takes to every meeting she has with local business people, fellow chamberites around the region, politicians at all levels of government, as well as federal and provincial bureaucrats.

For instance, widening the Trans-Canada Highway, from 216th Street to Whatcom Road, is priority one, insisted the executive director for the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

The expansion plan, previously set in motion by the Liberal government, has been tabled since the Premier John Horgan and the NDP-Green coalition took office, she explained.

Now, it’s up to the chamber to join other community leaders, business owners, and residents alike in lobbying for that highway plan to be reinstated – immediately, Clark said.

Inaction on this, coupled with the removal of tolls on the bridge, she said is having a catastrophic impact on businesses trying to move goods and services around the region.

“The congestion is horrendous,” she said.

“It’s disappointing that this stretch of highway that carries so much traffic throughout the day, moving our goods and services and moving our employees, our workers, everyone to and from their jobs, is held up by the amount of congestion that sites on these roads,” Clark expounded.

She pointed to a recent report by the Canadian chamber of commerce, called 10,000 Years in Traffic. One of the issues in that is mandatory infrastructure repairs and expansions to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Here in the Lower Mainland – and specifically Langley and Abbotsford – that is critical, she said.

“We hope that the conversation can be had with the provincial government to look at bringing that platform back up onto the table for discussion,” Clark added.

With the rapidly rising housing costs in the Lower Mainland, more and more people will be migrating out into the suburbs to live in Langley and further east.

Consequently, the congestion that currently exists on the freeway – no longer just during rush hour – is going to get worse. It already causes significant strains on area residents who are spending much more time stuck in traffic both to and from work, and even while on the job.

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Calling for light rail, too

While the highway expansion will help solve some of the current traffic congestion issues and resolve some of the more immediate transportation woes in the region, Clark said it is only one aspect of a multi-prong approach needed to deal with the future transportation needs locally.

Another mandatory step in reducing traffic congestion, she said, will be the extension of light rapid transit to Langley.

It’s useless to incorporate a rail system with the highway expansion, she stated. Most people in the Valley do not live along the freeway, and would still have to get in their vehicles to get there.

Instead, Clark calls for LRT to run more in line with the Fraser Highway through the core of the residential areas.

“We are advocating for more transit south of the Fraser [River],” she said, noting that for the chamber it means more than just bringing an LRT system into Langley, but then creating an effective bussing network to feed in and out of those hubs.

At present, she pointed out that Langley has an industrial park – Gloucester Estates in Aldergrove – where countless businesses can’t get employees because of a lack of transit.

“Build it, and want them to come, but how do they get there,” she said.

She will continue, on the local chamber’s behalf, to keep this and other transportation concerns in the forefront of the BC Chamber – which in turn, Clark said, will be pushing the province for change.

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Looking to the future

Speaking to the concern about long-term sustainability and adequate financial support for transportation in the region, there’s no easy solution at hand, Clark said.

The existing gas tax is insufficient, and an alternative must be found that encompasses the entire region, including Metro Vancouver and the entire Fraser Valley Regional District, she insisted.

She’s knows that mobility or decongestion pricing is being bandied about in earnest, at present. She’s attended many of the regional meetings, and will remain “active” in discussions on the matter.

The Langley chamber does recognize developing a feasible long-range plan is critical – and sooner rather than later – to deal with transportation throughout the Lower Mainland during the next few decades.

“Transportation is probably one of our key initiatives, and I suspect it will be for years to come,” Clark said, saying it’s imperative for both residents and businesses in Langley alike. “The economic stability in the area is dependent on it.”

It is Chamber of Commerce week Feb. 19 to 23, and the Langley Advance is helping celebrate by offering a number ofstories about this business organization in Langley that is 1,000 members strong.

READ: Langley chamber ‘not opposed’ to minimum wage increase

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