An underpass taking traffic through the intersection of Harris Road and the CP Rail tracks in Pitt Meadows has been discussed for literally decades, but the issue is about to be decided.
Mayor John Becker predicts that before Christmas the province will finish research it has been doing about how to improve traffic flow through Pitt Meadows, and share that information with the city.
As those discussions begin, city hall will talk about bringing the province in to help fund the projected $25 million underpass project – a priority for the railway and the city.
Becker said residents should have an answer about the underpass in the first six months of 2017.
For residents who get stopped behind a train on Harris Road on a regular basis, the underpass is the holy grail of Pitt Meadows infrastructure. It would solve the city’s largest ongoing traffic delay.
“We have a lot of anecdotal information – as early as this morning when I was late for a TransLink meeting because I got stuck by a train,” Mayor John Becker said last week.
“The waits are getting longer, and the waits are getting more frequent.”
CP has been supportive of an underpass at Harris Road, said spokesman Salem Woodrow.
“CP has a strong relationship with the community of Pitt Meadows,” he added. “CP operates 24/7 and will work with the community to resolve any concerns they may have about our operations. While we try to minimize the effects of our operation on people living nearby, sometimes this is unavoidable.”
He also referred to a report by the Conference Board of Canada that outlines the growing demand for rail service, and need for expansion in rail infrastructure.
The tonnage of commodities shipped by rail is predicted to increase to 260 million tonnes by 2025 from 200 million tonnes in 2011.
That translates to hundreds of thousands more rail cars, and most will come through B.C.
CP is budgeting $1.5 billion in capital spending through 2018 to update rail infrastructure.
CP’s ability to connect long lines of cars is constrained by an inability to extend train building across Harris Road.
CP cannot go west because of the Navigable Waters Act – a federal statute that says it can’t sit on the train bridge.
CP can only build trains from Harris Road to the Pitt River, and some trains are longer than that. So CP has to take trains in pieces, move them elsewhere, then put them together. That is a significant cost to CP rail.
Movement of goods is a national concern.
Becker said the underpass would be an expensive piece of infrastructure, but his position remains that the city would not share its cost. He expects CP Rail, and both the provincial and federal governments to fund the project as a Pacific Gateway initiative.
“The feds are in huge deficit mode, pouring money into these projects, and now is the time for this to happen,” said Becker.
There could be drawbacks – such as noise from trains being built through the city, and the unsightly cars parked across Harris Road.
The change would be tantamount to an expansion of the existing CP yard, and the city would require buffering to mitigate the noise.
An underpass tunnel would be wider than the existing road. The city would also be forced to move the Pitt Meadows Museum and Hoffmann Garage.
Access to Otter Co-Op other businesses could also be affected.
“The positive effects of not waiting for a train are obvious,” said Becker.