Surrey aims to cut vehicle traffic, boost web traffic

SURREY — A Hyundai Accent rear-ends a tractor-trailer on the northbound approach to the Patullo Bridge.

Traffic is ensnarled for hours, backing up King George Boulevard all the way to Surrey city centre. Truckers sit with their loads while commuters show up late for work.

Traffic tangles are often just part of doing business in B.C.’s second-largest city, which is home to the Fraser Surrey Docks, railway lines, two U.S. border crossings and dozens of logistics companies.

It’s also an issue Surrey city council is tackling with high-tech solutions as more drivers fill the roads to avoid paying tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge. The city is in the midst of launching a state-of-the art traffic management centre that city staff described in a July 3 report as the most advanced in B.C.

By the end of the year, the new centre is expected to boost its closed-circuit television network to 250 cameras from 178 cameras, allowing staff to monitor traffic patterns and adjust signals in real time to reroute traffic around accidents, according to the report.

The city plans to expand its traffic signal co-ordination network along 29 corridors each year. And all 340 of its traffic signals will be updated by December 2014 to provide round-the-clock traffic count data every day.

“It’s very difficult to keep up with that infrastructure just by widening and building more roads, so we have to do things smarter, and that’s a big part of what this [traffic] management system is all about,” said Coun. Bruce Hayne, chairman of the city’s investment and innovation committee.

And doing things “smarter” isn’t simply about traffic, he added.

The Smart Surrey technology initiative, as detailed in the July 3 report, goes beyond managing vehicle traffic in more high-tech ways. It also takes aim at boosting Internet traffic throughout the city.

Goals include providing free Wi-Fi in major public spaces such as Holland Park and city hall, and eliminating cellular dead spots throughout the city by outfitting lampposts with wireless communications devices.

That greater push for mobility extends to the city’s booming development sector, where the value of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional building permits has grown to $1.3 billion in 2013 from $600 million in 1996.

An online building inspection system allows clients to use the Internet to request a permit, schedule an appointment and view the results of an inspection.

“Somebody waiting for a plumbing inspection, for instance, doesn’t have to be around the work site all day long waiting for the inspector to come along,” Hayne said.

“They know within a 20-minute time window when they’re going to be there.”

He said there’s no exact budget for the initiative – all the goals will be absorbed into the budgets of other departments – but the program’s efficiencies are expected to reduce costs throughout the city.

“The business community has led the way in this smart strategy,” Hayne said, “and it’s now municipalities and cities like ours that are catching up.”

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