Fraser Valley mayors talked roads, density, and red tape at the Urban Development Institute’s panel discussion Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.
Speaking for their communities were Mission’s Mayor Pam Alexis, Abbotsford’s Mayor Henry Braun, Chilliwack’s Mayor Ken Popove, Councillor Linda Annis from Surrey, Langley City Mayor Val van den Broek, and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese.
Real estate analyst Don Campbell returned as moderator, and noted that since the issues were yet again the same, he would be re-using the same questions he lobbed at the panel in 2017 – about transit and transportation, the housing crisis, and development and growth in the region.
Campbell noted that the high cost of housing is still pushing people away from Vancouver out to the suburbs represented by the mayors and councillor at the table.
With those new arrivals come cars, and he asked what is being done for transportation.
“The highways are a bit of a gong show,” said Popove. He noted that with more people, getting around even in Chilliwack, long seen as a rural community, is becoming difficult.
A $15 million project by the city to update local infrastructure will help, but it won’t completely solve all local commuter issues, Popove noted.
Annis, who represents one of the fastest growing communities in B.C., said her community is trying to create more jobs, hitting a goal of one job per employable resident in 10 years. That provides alternatives for people leaving Surrey and commuting to other cities, Annis said.
“Campbell Heights is open for business,” Annis said, speaking of the industrial area in south east Surrey.
The 216th Street interchange is expected to be completed later this year in Langley Township, noted Froese.
“That’s going to be a game changer in Langley,” he said. “It [216th Street] was cut in the ’60s, when the highway went through.”
It will now become the fourth highway interchange and seventh highway overpass in Langley.
The subject of money from senior levels of government came up frequently during the discussion, as larger-scale projects such as SkyTrain to Langley, or widening the Trans Canada Highway east to Chilliwack, will require cash from Victoria or Ottawa.
Froese noted he and New Westminster’s Jonathan Coté will be going to Ottawa in February to lobby for the delivery of transportation funding, including that for the SkyTrain project.
Meanwhile, Abbotsford’s Braun still wants the provincial government to borrow $8 billion for a Fraser Valley light rail link.
Braun said the freeway also needs to be widened, saying truck traffic on the highway has increased 40 per cent in the last two years.
“It is costing our economy an enormous amount of money,” Braun said.
Getting cars off the highway is where commuter rail comes in, Braun said.
“My ask is only $1.9 billion,” joked Langley City’s van den Broek, noting that’s how much more money is needed to get SkyTrain to Langley.
Mission, like Surrey, is trying to create more jobs locally, because so many people commute out of the district each day.
“We have 70 per cent of Mission that leaves every day,” said Alexis. She noted that 30 per cent work in the trades, and couldn’t use transit if it was available, as they’re headed off to various work sites, taking tools and gear.
Density and development linked to transit was a major topic of discussion as well.
Van den Broek mentioned the work the City is doing to upgrade its community plans based around the arrival of light rail.
“We want to be ahead of the SkyTrain,” she said. “We ant to be prepared for it.”
Froese talked about not only the opportunities when it comes to transit-oriented development, but the possible pitfalls.
He spoke of “transit oriented displacement,” when low-income people are pushed out of their homes to make way for towers and high-density, high-end homes near rail lines.
Protections for existing residents and the creation of housing for everyone needs to be considered, Froese said.
The staggering pace of growth in some communities was mentioned by mayors.
Braun said there are 5,400 residential units in the development pipeline right now in Abbotsford, and 80 per cent of them are multi-family projects.
Meanwhile, even Langley City, population 27,000, has 700 units under construction and almost 2,000 in the pipeline, said van den Broek.
“We are growing exponentially,” she said.