The eastern third of the South Fraser Perimeter Road opens Saturday and has now been named Highway 17.
The 10-kilometre leg of B.C.’s newest highway initially connects Highway 1 at 176 Street to 136 Street in Surrey and is promoted by the province as the quick alternate route to the free Pattullo Bridge for motorists who don’t want to pay tolls to cross the new Port Mann Bridge.
But NDP transportation critic Harry Bains said motorists who use it to get to the Pattullo are in for a “huge traffic jam” between the 136 Street end of the perimeter road and King George Boulevard, where four lanes constrict to two.
“They’ll come to almost a sudden stop on a very narrow side street,” he said. “Then if they pass that choke point, we all know the Pattullo Bridge as it is now is over capacity. It’s hard to imagine it can handle any more traffic.”
Bains said that means the Pattullo won’t offer a reasonable free alternative, forcing drivers to either pay up on the Port Mann or divert further to the Alex Fraser Bridge.
Eight lanes open up Saturday over the Port Mann but tolls won’t kick in until Dec. 8, after which the effects of the initial half-price toll on traffic diversion should become more apparent.
The existing Highway 17 from to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal from Highway 99 will be renumbered Highway 17A.
The perimeter road project used “quiet pavement” – a different blend of stone and sand with more air pockets – that officials say will reduce traffic noise from the new highway for nearby residents.
Once the entire SFPR is complete from Highway 1 to Deltaport by the end of 2013, much of the heavy truck traffic that now uses River Road and other routes in Surrey and Delta is expected to shift onto the new Highway 17.
“This new road is a huge benefit to families as it will pull commercial traffic away from community roads, easing congestion and improving travel time and safety,” Transportation Minister Mary Polak said.
She said the new expressway for commercial, commuter and tourism traffic will help relieve congestion between the Massey Tunnel, Alex Fraser, Pattullo and Port Mann bridges.
Ed Fast, the federal minister for international trade and the Asia-Pacific Gateway, said the new highway will help increase Canadian exports to Asia while improving quality of life for local residents.
Ottawa contributed $365 million of the perimeter road’s $1.26-billion cost.
Truckers should save time and money and gain improved access to industrial sites along the Fraser River, said B.C. Trucking Association president Louise Yako.
It’s also expected to foster more business and industry at sites along the corridor, adding an estimated 7,000 jobs in Surrey and Delta.
The project wasn’t without controversy.
Freeway expansion opponents repeatedly blockaded sections of the route, which runs over some ancient aboriginal sites.
Risks to Burns Bog or other wildlife habitat areas and increased pollution in nearby neighbourhoods were among the concerns raised.
Nor will the highway be free of traffic lights – a bone of contention for some critics who say the highway will be slower than first promised as a result.
Traffic will have to stop for lights at Bridgeview Drive and 176 Street in Surrey as well as Nordel Way and also Tilbury when the Delta section of the route opens.
Project managers say the groundwork is being laid to eventually upgrade those intersections to free flowing interchanges with on and off ramps.