North side of Lougheed Highway blocked off while construction underway. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

North side of Lougheed Highway blocked off while construction underway. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Lougheed Highway work one of the final parts of Maple Ridge plan

Stems from eco-oriented strategy from a decade ago

Two lanes of the main road through downtown have been dug up, the sidewalk smashed and heavy construction equipment creaks along daily in organized chaos.

Businesses complain their sales are down as a result of having their front doors blocked with piles of dirt and rubble, but downtown resident Claus Andrup says the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain.

Andrup was involved with the brainstorming sessions with the Smart Growth on the Ground planning process from more than a decade ago that led to the whole plan for the downtown, which resulted in the current work that’s being done on Lougheed Highway.

The city is completely rebuilding Lougheed Highway between 224th and 226th streets, along with new storm sewers, sidewalks, road surface, street furniture, trees and lights. It’s the last phase of the downtown enhancement project, which is part of the city’s overall plan for the area.

Frustration with the construction, though, is being eased by better communication from the city, said Ineke Boekhorst, with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.

The city now provides weekly updates via hand-delivered pamphlets, about the status of the project. Those updates are also online.

“At least we have that communication going on between us. There seems to be a lot more understanding now,” Boekhorst said.

Mayoralty candidate Ernie Daykin was on council when the Smart Growth on the Ground plan was completed in 2005. That formed the basis of the Town Centre Area Plan, passed in 2008.

The current project is just one part of the plan, Daykin said.

It will complete the re-construction of Lougheed Highway from 222nd Street to 228th Street.

“The downtown has come a long way. This is just one of the pieces,” Daykin said.

The disruption of local traffic is tough, but it will be worth it, he added, pointing out that 224th Street was redone in a similar fashion several years ago.

Shops along that street are now benefiting, he said.

The Smart Growth on the Ground process, involved a joint partnership between the city’s planning department and UBC and resulted in a plan that calls for an eco-friendly, pedestrian-centred development with higher population density aimed at creating a thriving downtown core.

Maple Ridge was the first city in B.C. to go through the smart growth planning process, said Coun. Craig Speirs, also running for mayor in the October civic elections.

“Everything flowed from that. It’s been wonderful, he added.

“The Lougheed improvements will be pedestrian friendly. We have to entice people on to our streets to enjoy our beautiful town.”

Andrup ran for council in the 2011 election because he wanted to see the downtown plan realized. But he now sees much of that plan is falling into place.

“What I see is what I wanted to see and now I’m seeing it.”

He remembers a bleak and grey downtown in the late 1990s.

“And no people.”

Now, 20 years later, “we’re beginning to see it.

“It’s got momentum. And you’re going to see more of it.”

Andrup described the temporary modular units being built for homeless people on Royal Crescent, and homelessness, as part of modern, city life.

“It’s not all going to look like Versailles.”

Andrup cited several projects underway that are changing that downtown, such as the new condos on Edge Street, the new condo development on St. Anne Avenue across from Anita Place Tent City, and similarly, a new development underway across from the modular homes on Royal Crescent.

He noted that the smart growth plan called for making 224th Street an artery connecting the downtown to the Fraser River waterfront, where three new condo structures have been built and a fourth is underway.

Upgrades to Valley Fair Mall, and restaurant patios are other signs of improvement.

“Money is quite literally pouring into the downtown,” Andrup said.

“It is all part of the downtown core plan. Thankfully, we are now seeing evidence of previous councils’ work. Onwards! Andrup added on FaceBook.

Former city councillor Faye Issac, though, wondered if the leaves from the new street trees will prove hazardous to seniors when it’s raining. But another Andrup countered that leaves are part of the price of having street trees.