COLUMN: The road to good transit

The new Surrey council must address and improve public transit service in the region.

The biggest single task in front of the new Surrey council is to do its best to improve transportation and public transit service in this region.

In a word, transportation is a serious problem in the South Fraser area. It may be the most serious problem. While many improvements are underway, and that has led to some temporary added congestion, local, regional and provincial governments are not working in concert to solve many of the most pressing issues. If they are left unsolved, the problems will simply get worse.

Here’s one example from my own experience last week. Fraser Highway has been undergoing widening to four lanes gradually over the past seven or eight years. Much of the work is done. But the stretch between 168 and 180 Streets has been underway for years, and is nowhere close to being done.

Fraser Highway is also a major transit route. The 502, one of the busiest bus routes in Surrey, travels along that road. Buses are routinely stalled for as long as half an hour trying to navigate that two-kilometre stretch of the highway.

This of course delays the entire bus schedule and keeps people from using transit. There are innumerable other problems with the 502 — passengers are routinely left waiting at the bus stops, including King George station, as an already-jammed bus sails by. The problem with roadwork makes a bad problem even worse.

Fraser Highway is also badly congested in the Green Timbers area, where it goes from four lanes to two. On principle, I have not been in favour of widening that road. However, there is already far too much traffic at peak times. RCMP E Division is in the process of moving to that area, and the new Jim Pattison day surgery centre just opened at 140 Street and Fraser Highway. How much more traffic can this overtaxed road take before there is complete gridlock?

Then there’s the Port Mann Bridge. In just over a year, what has been a free, but often frustrating trip will turn into a $3 each way trip. This will lead to more traffic on the Pattullo Bridge, The routes to that bridge in both Surrey and New Westminster are hopelessly congested now, as I experienced last week when crawling along 10th Avenue in New Westminster at a pace that a slug would have found slow. That road has seen no improvements in 40 years, and New Westminster actively discourages commuter traffic. The road doesn’t even have left turn lanes, even though  there are advance green turn arrows.

Is this the “free” alternative to the Port Mann?

Surrey has stand up and shout that it is completely unacceptable to have the Port Mann become a toll bridge, when there are no other toll bridges in any other areas of the Lower Mainland (other than Golden Ears, which is a new, as opposed to replacement bridge).

Transit service is already abysmal in most parts of the South Fraser. While there will be added trips over the new Port Mann, that barely makes up for the fact that it is a toll bridge. Transit service will be of limited value to all but those who work along the SkyTrain line.

Mayor Dianne Watts voted for an additional two-cent gas tax to improve transit in Surrey. A B-Line bus is supposed to go into service along King George Highway soon. Great, but what about the other highly-congested bus routes? And how about adding some new ones?

It is impossible to live in most areas of Surrey without a car, unless you like to stay  home every night. People in other parts of the Lower Mainland have much more convenient bus service — and do not face the prospect of toll bridges. When will there be an improvement?

If there is no change soon, Surrey should seriously consider rejecting development proposals. The Lower Mainland is counting on Surrey to keep growing, and most people here have little problem with growth.

However, we are reaching a point where transportation must improve, before things get much, much worse.

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