COLUMN: No longer roads vs. rails

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A plethora of politicians were on hand in a quiet corner of Surrey last Friday morning. They were marking the surprisingly swift progress on the $121 million “combo” overpass project, one of the many improvements being made along the rail line to Roberts Bank.

The combo project involves three rail line overpasses, two in Surrey and one on the 196 Street alignment, which is the boundary between Surrey and Langley. Work stretches from south of 52 Avenue to 196 Street and 64 Avenue.

This project may turn out to be the most comprehensive, expensive and perhaps even most successful of all the improvements being made along the rail line.

The heavy presence of politicians emphasized the partnership that is making these projects possible. The federal government has made improvements along the rail line a high priority. The government is putting about $75 million into projects which will total $307 million. They stretch from the port rail yard  in Delta all the way to 232 Street.

The province has also committed a great deal of money, as have the four local governments along the line – Delta, Surrey, Langley City and Langley Township. Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon, who was minister of  transportation at the time the ambitious program was first agreed to, played a key role in getting provincial backing. Surprisingly, he was absent Friday, even though the event was held in his riding. Surrey is managing the combo project and work is well underway. It will involve an overpass at 192 Street, another along 54 Avenue and a third one that will cross both the rail line and Langley Bypass, along the 196 Street alignment.

There will be improvements to the corner of 192 Street and Highway 10, where westbound traffic currently backs up along a stretch of 56 Avenue. While 192 Street is a truck route, trucks are not supposed to use the other two overpasses, but proceed directly to Highway 10.

There will also be improvements at 60 Avenue and 196 Street and 64 Avenue and 196 Street. Traffic signals at these intersections will help move traffic better, near the busy Willowbrook Shopping Centre.

While this project is the most complex one in Surrey, several others are also underway. The most prominent is the 152 Street overpass, which will eliminate a major bottleneck on a key connector between North and South Surrey. No longer will long trains hold up traffic for lengthy periods of time.

Two other extensions of rail sidings are underway, just west of 184 Street and below Panorama Ridge from about 131A Street to 144 Street. The latter project, which involves rerouting Colebrook Road, will allow whistling to cease on the rail line in the area. Improvements to the 168 Street crossing will also eliminate whistling at that crossing.

The longer sidings will allow the railways to run much longer trains, which is part of the overall port expansion plans.

All these projects will help boost port activity and reduce conflicts between road and rail users. Port Metro Vancouver is a major economic driver for the entire region, and port traffic is a key job creator. The fact that all levels of government realize this is encouraging.

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