Bhupinder Johar chats with Chelsa Meadus, both candidates for Maple Ridge council. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

New road to 256th Street is a ways off in east Maple Ridge

Extension of 128th/Abernethy Way one topic at Maple Ridge election forum

It’s going to be a long road to extending Abernethy Way to 256th Street, Webster’s Corners residents heard Monday.

Contenders for Maple Ridge council, at an all-candidates meeting that night, mostly told the audience that extending the road eastward through a residential and hobby-farm area from 232nd Street is a decade, or a few, away.

“The most important thing we need to ask is … how are we going to pay for it? It’s going to be very expensive,” said Peter Tam.

Lou Jose was unable to get a cost for the project, but used $35 million as a sample price tag. If the city borrowed that amount over 20 years, it would work out to another $78 a year on the average property taxpayers’ bill, he said.

“I’m not sure we’re willing to do that.” However, revenue from the resulting increase in commercial development could offset that, he pointed out.

Extending the road would be “huge expenditure” and will take time, added Don Mitchell. “But if we don’t start soon, it’s just that much farther back.”

The city is trying to develop the industrial area north of 256th Street, so it should look at infrastructure connecting to that, Mitchell added.

Michael Tuzzi, though, called for doing the project within five years, while Ryan Svendsen said the extension is “sometime in the future,” although he’d like to advance its schedule.

Ahmed Yousef said that extending the road is “top of mind for me.”

The focus on the road came from a question from the Webster’s Corners Community Association, which hosted the forum. The association said that Dewdney Trunk Road is handling “unbearable and dangerous traffic” caused by the industrial development in the northern part of 256th Street. The association asked would-be councillors at its all-candidates’ meeting how they would speed up the project.

Abernethy Way, or 128th Avenue, has recently been widened to four lanes from 210th to 224th street, while four-laning of the road from 224th to 232nd streets is in the design stage, with construction already in the city’s budget.

Rick Pennykid cited a report ordered by council in November 2017. It approved spending $200,000 on a study to extend the road from 232nd to 256th streets. That should be ready by next spring.

Mayoralty candidate Ernie Daykin said he expected Webster’s Corners to still have its rural character a decade or two from now, perhaps with a commercial hub. And the area deserves as much attention as any other in the city saying that an area plan would be a “key tool,” he added.

But his opponent, Craig Speirs, added that Webster’s Corners has “stagnated for quite a while,” ever since the store at the corner of 256th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road was demolished.

As an example of how Webster’s Corners could look, “think of the commercial buildings at 248th Street [and Dewdney Trunk Road] as an example of what might occur.”

He didn’t see the extension of Abernethy in a 15- to 30-year time frame, saying it had to coincide with the industrial reserve expansion. But future councils could decide to four-lane Dewdney Trunk Road instead, he added.

Mayoralty candidate Mike Morden said he’s heard complaints about the traffic, “and we need to sort that out.

“As mayor, I would be bringing forward a review of our traffic policy, which will deal with congestion all over the city and Webster’s is included in that,” Morden said.

However, the development should respect the rural lifestyle, he added.

The community association also asked the mayors about homelessness. People need to be assessed in order to help them, Morden said. “But homeless people are everywhere, they’re not just in Maple Ridge, they’re across North America.”

It’s our right and duty to help them advance in their lives, he added.

“It is also our right and obligation to citizens to ensure that neighbourhoods remain safe and the laws are enforced and I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”

That will be by setting priorities for police, “and bylaws as well as private security if that’s the way we have to go, everybody’s right to a safe community.”

Private security already patrols parts of downtown, while an intensive case management team is now in Maple Ridge that helps connects people to services.

Speirs, though, said that “Housing First works,” with wrap-around services.

“We have to find a way to say yes to housing.”

Twenty-five Maple Ridge council candidates and four mayoralty candidates fielded questions from the association and written questions from the audience.

No candidate ventured to take a contrarian position in response to a question asking if they would advocate for free public parking at Ridge Meadows Hospital.

Mitchell said he’d advocate for that, but revenue from pay parking does go to the hospital (Fraser Health).

“So if we really want it, we should buck up.”

Elizabeth Taylor said the issue of free parking at the hospital has been around for 20 years.

“In 20 years, nothing has happened.”

If someone has a plan to remove pay parking, Taylor said she’d follow it up. But it’s not something the city has any say on, she added.

Another question asked about managing growth in Webster’s Corners, while a question from the audience asked if they supported the city’s plan to borrow up to $50 million to pay for new recreation facilities.

Coun. Kiersten Duncan said that council has spent a lot of time on consultation on each recreational project and said the city is in a “really positive position.”

Coun. Gordy Robson said that Webster’s Corners needs an area plan, as does Albion flats and the expansion of 128th Avenue/Abernethy Way.

“What this community will look like in 10 to 20 years, that’s for Websters Corners residents to decide,” said Andrew Hegedus.

Al Robbie also said that Webster’s Corners deserves an area plan to chart its future, but he noted it’s outside the urban boundary and said he wanted to see it keep its rural feel.

He foresaw light commercial development around the corner when ready.

Svendsen said it’s still possible to see the stars at night in rural Webster’s Corners.

“If I had that, I wouldn’t be in a rush to give it away.”

Maple Ridge has a “poor record” of bringing in new commercial developments such a major stores or medical or educational facilities, Jose added.

The candidates’ meeting packed Webster’s Corners elementary gym and was preceded by an hour-long session involving the mayoral candidates.

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Judy Dueck, Kiersten Duncan, Andrew Hegedus, Bhupinder Johar, Lou Jose, Terry Kennedy, Rysa Kronebusch and Ahmed Yousef are all running for Maple Ridge council. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

(Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS) Mayoralty candidates Ernie Daykin, Mike Morden, Craig Speirs and Doug Blamey (not pictured) kicked off the election forum.

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