Pitt Meadows city Coun. Bruce Bell asserts there’s no point, and no need, to build an underpass beneath the tracks at the CP Rail crossing on Harris Road.
“There is no use putting in a four-lane underpass that takes you to a failing intersection,” he said, referring to the congested junction of Harris and Lougheed Highway.
In his opinion, an Allen Way overpass should be the priority, with a southern approach that takes vehicles west along the Katzie Slough, then connects to McTavish Road, heading south into Pitt Meadows.
McTavish would have to be widened and upgraded to take the increase in traffic, he said.
And if the provincial Ministry of Transportation creates a working interchange at Allen Way and Lougheed, it could reduce the Harris/Lougheed bottleneck, he said, adding that in past conversations with the ministry, it has expressed a preference for an Allen Way interchange.
Bell sees this as an alternative to the recently announced plan to put overpasses at Allen Way and Kennedy Road, and an underpass at Harris, which the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum pitched to council on Jan. 9. The Forum was established in 2014 and includes Transport Canada, the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, TransLink and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council.
The group, with a goal to improve the movement of goods across Canada to the Port of Vancouver, has applied to the federal government for funding for a $50 million Kennedy Road overpass and a $63 million Harris Road underpass.
The National Trade Corridors Fund will allot $2 billion to such projects over 11 years.
Bell and Coun. Janis Elkerton are both opponents of the Harris Road underpass, saying it would change the character of the downtown.
Elkerton said ugly boxcars and tank cars will be parked or moving through the downtown on a virtually permanent basis as Pitt Meadows becomes a virtual rail yard. The veteran councilor said the noise of boxcars coming together will echo through Pitt Meadows, if CP gets its way, as the company closes off intersections so it can build longer trains through the city.
“This is mainly for CPR. They will benefit and we get all the noise and visual pollution,” said Elkerton. “I can hear the clanging out here in the farmland – I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like.”
Bell also suggests Harris Road could be closed to vehicle traffic at night, to allow CP to build trains, but said that is just an idea.
“It’s a work in progress, and I’m glad it’s out there in the public domain.”
Mayor John Becker does not want councillors or the public entrenching in their positions too soon, saying there is still a lot of detail that needs to be worked out with the Gateway forum.
Responding to some immediate concerns, he said Hoffman Park would not be impacted by the underpass at Harris Road, and both the Pitt Meadows Museum and the Hoffman Garage buildings can be moved back, according to engineer reports. Becker said they could be relocated on their sites in an advantageous way, to create room for other buildings, courtyards or static displays.
“Once the buildings are up in the air, you’ve incurred your major costs,” he said.
He also said the Harris Road underpass may not be a complete barrier to traffic during construction, because a detour route east or west of the existing crossing can be made.
He said council’s role is to protect the interests of Pitt Meadows citizens.
“Pay attention, get involved, ask questions, but don’t set your hair on fire,” said Becker.
Becker, Elkerton and Bell all said the residents they speak to about the issue are almost equally divided on whether they want a Harris Road underpass or not.
Becker said it will be important for council to agree on a course of action that gets the majority of votes.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to put our hands in the air and make decisions.”
Plans to change the railway infrastructure in Pitt Meadows will need local support to get much-needed federal support, says Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MP Dan Ruimy.
“I’ve told the Gateway group they need to do their homework with regard to mayor and council,” said Ruimy. “If there’s federal funding on the table, they really need to work with the city.”
His own impression of the proposals is that they are overdue, particularly the underpass at Harris Road.
“Something needs to be done there,” he said. “A fair number of people call us [the MP’s office] because they’re sitting at the tracks.”
He toured the Pitt Meadows Fire Hall, and Fire Chief Don Jolley told him the tracks can be a detriment in an emergency response.
“If they’re pulling out and there’s a train there, they’re stuck like everybody else.”
There are national concerns at stake – CP owns the rail lines and want to make it easier to ship freight, and the Port of Metro Vancouver also wants a free flow of goods.
“But we have to make sure the city’s needs are taken into consideration,” he said. “This can be a win-win-win for everybody.”