There was some sticker shock for members of Pitt Meadows council, who saw the estimated $22.5 million price tag for an underpass for the CP Rail crossing at Harris Road.
Coun. Bruce Bell voiced his concerns about the cost, the impact it would have on traffic, and the potential that an underpass could be an eyesore.
“It’s interesting that this has been around for decades,” said Bell, noting that previous councils have discarded the notion of building an underpass, or an overpass.
“To me, it just seems like a lot,” he said. “And it’s all tied in with traffic, and even if you had an underpass or overpass, it’s not going anywhere without doing something about Lougheed and Harris, and other parts of the city ...”
He said solving Pitt Meadows traffic problems is a bigger bill than even $22.5 million.
“I, for one, wouldn’t get too excited about it, because I think it’s really a pipe dream unless people are going to come forward with hundreds of millions of dollars to really solve the problem,” said Bell.
He also said an underpass has the potential to spoil Harris Road. He envisions graffiti-covered freight cars parked on top, more rail lines added, “and a bunch of booming and banging,” as train cars are linked.
Coun. Janis Elkerton noted that the contingency fund for the project would add up to 25 per cent, and that the projected cost does not include any sound mitigation measures, which would be necessary to shield residential neighbourhoods.
Coun. David Murray echoed their sentiments, saying he would not be prepared to saddle Pitt Meadows residents with multiple millions of dollars in debt for the project.
“We don’t want to put the city in a bad situation financially,” he said. “I’m very, very reluctant to do this, at this point, because of the cost factor.”
Mayor John Becker prefaced the underpass presentation by saying that the conversations about the project began shortly after the new council was elected, with provincial and federal government representatives, and the rail company. The conversations were held in private.
“We probably spent more time on that particular issue than anything else. Yet, because of the nature of those conversations, nobody knew what we were doing,” said Becker.
Council is moving its findings into the public arena.
“So we as a community can begin discussing some of the facts and figures and options that this council was able to glean over the past 12 months,” said Becker.
Director of operations Kate Zanon noted that CP Rail would be able to build longer trains with the underpass, and could add additional track in future.
The senior government wants to improve the movement of goods through the Pacific Gateway Program.
She noted it would be possible to maintain traffic flow on Harris Road during construction, via diversion lanes on city or CP-owned land on either side of the intersection.
The work would require moving heritage buildings on either side of the roadway, which would be set farther back on their lots.
The underpass would return to grade, tying back into the road network near 122A on the south side, and near Davison Road on the north side.
Zanon said that’s a much slimmer profile than had been originally envisioned.
The new roads would mean the closure of the south driveway to Otter Co-op, the elimination of on-street parking at Keystone apartments, and there would be no Harris Road access to the West Coast Express Station, while Charlton Automotive Repair would lose its north driveway.
Zanon said the city must still study the impacts on traffic flow during construction, and sound attenuation of the rail operations.
She said the issue could be put to referendum.
Councillors said they will be interested in public feedback based the information put forward so far.
Becker said more information will be forthcoming, and told the audience to “stay tuned.”