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‘Can’t afford to keep waiting’ for highway widening to Chilliwack, councillor says

Provincial reps try to reassure council that widening to Chilliwack still a ‘priority’ project
Chilliwack council received an update on plans for Highway 1 widening as far as Chilliwack from MOTI reps at city hall on Oct. 10, 2023. (Province of B.C.)

It was the second time this month Chilliwack council had an update from provincial government reps on the Highway 1 widening project.

But what was missing was a clear timeline for expanding the project as far as Chilliwack.

Ministry of transportation and infrastructure (MOTI) officials Elena Farmer, and Stephanie Rothman were in council chambers Oct. 10, with a presentation about the widening project, the ‘Fraser Valley Highway 1 Corridor Improvement Program,’ rolling out in Phases 1 to 4.

Phase 3A construction work is scheduled to begin next year.

But it was Phase 4, where the widening to three lanes will go from Highway 11 to Yale Road West in Chilliwack, that council wanted to hear more about.

Precisely how long the work would take to reach Chilliwack was both the central question and an irritant for councillors.

Coun. Bud Mercer said he was “somewhere between hopeful and pessimistic” after hearing the presentation on Highway 1 widening.

“I’ll probably be in the old folks’ home with no driver’s licence by the time it reaches Chilliwack,” Mercer said about the widening, adding there was no timeline provided.

A project presentation that specified when they could expect “shovels in the ground” on Phase 4 to Chilliwack would have been “more helpful,” Mercer said.

On behalf of the highway commuters who have to “run the s-show” daily, Mercer asked why MOTI officials were not looking at the “low-hanging fruit” of potential improvements they could fix in the interim.

“It’s becoming too late now. It’s every day now that we’re backed up to Abbotsford and Langley,” Mercer said, adding it affects local business, transport, and commerce.

Ministry rep Elena Farmer tried to reassure the city councillors, acknowledging it was a priority and a a matter of “urgency” for officials to work through the various project phases.

It was not the first time that Coun. Chris Kloot emphasized that highway widening as far as Chilliwack needed to happen sooner rather than later. The highway is the “backbone” of local commerce.

“We’re 25 years overdue for improvements in this transportation corridor,” Kloot said before the council meeting. “I think there are ways it can be done but I am not optimistic I’ll see it before I’m a senior citizen.”

Given that Chilliwack is one of the fastest-growing area in the country, it should be a priority project for MOTI, he underlined.

The province managed to allocate $25 million for the variable speed corridor project, “which was very ineffective and a complete waste of money,” Kloot added, with everyone still crawling along the highway.

“We can’t afford to keep waiting,” Kloot said. “This highway is dangerous.”

He suggested they seek out “quick wins” along some the chokepoints, he said, like expanding the length of the off-ramps.

The highway widening “needs to be expedited,” he added, “and I know the government is working toward that,” but the councillor said he isn’t buying the idea that they have to wait 25 years to get there.

Farmer noted that ministry reps were also working on “mode shift” as they attempt to get people to shift out of their vehicles, but they still understand and are prioritizing the need for highway improvements.

Coun. Nicole Read wanted to know if plans were being made to upgrade infrastructure in relation to the growth, and was told every effort was being made to make the infrastructure is going to be resilient to the future.

“We did hear you loud and clear,” Farmer said about comments by elected officials made around the FVRD table earlier this month when they made the presentation for local government. She said they brought back the suggestion for “low-hanging” fruit to be addressed by ministry experts.

Timeline details about the Chilliwack aspect of the project will be available closer to the end of the year, the MOTI rep added.

RELATED: Chambers of Commerce call for expedited highway widening

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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