Pitt Meadows council has been working behind the scenes for a Harris Road underpass to take drivers beneath the CP Rail tracks, and the issue will be on a council public agenda in January.
Mayor John Becker said the project is a priority for both the railway and the city. What’s more, the movement of goods makes it an issue for Port Metro, and a project that may be smiled upon when Justin Trudeau’s government is doling out infrastructure grants.
Becker said CP and different levels of government – the transportation ministry, Gateway Program and Port Metro – have been involved in the conversation.
“The level of confidentiality is not one that our council would have chosen, but was imposed on us as a condition of conversation,” said Becker.
Early in the new year, Becker will put the $20-million-plus project on a council agenda. While potentially expensive, he said transportation is “consistently one of the top priorities of our residents,”
He said the underpass could lessen train building headaches for CP.
Right now, 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.
“Our particular crossing issue is one of their top two or three in the Lower Mainland, in terms of ‘We need to fix this,’” Becker said of CP.
Salem Woodrow, CP public affairs and communications, confirmed that the Harris Road crossing is a pinch point and a priority for the company.
She said an underpass there would also allow better traffic flow, and could allow for future expansion of the nearby West Coast Express station, which is currently constrained by the crossing.
It is also a recognized safety concern, because emergency responders – an ambulance, a fire truck or a police car – could be critically delayed by a train.
Still, Becker said the project cannot be undertaken without public input, and the community understanding that the train building exercise is loud. He doesn’t want the quality of life of residents to be sacrificed, even for the national interest.
“The movement of goods across the country and internationally is a good thing for the entire dominion,” said Becker. “However, building trains 24 hours a day across Harris Road is going to be, if not done properly, just a God-awful disaster for the people who already living abutting up to the train tracks. You can imagine the slamming and banging of cars on a 24-7 basis.
“We need to be careful what we wish for, because the cure may be a lot worse than the disease.”
Addressing that concern, Woodrow said CP does work to reduce impact on municipalities with its train building.
“CP has a strong relationship with the community of Pitt Meadows. CP operates 24/7 and will work with the community to resolve any concerns they may have about our operations,” she said. “While we try to minimize the effects of our operation on people living nearby, sometimes this is unavoidable.”
Another key question is what share of the project will Pitt Meadows taxpayers put up?
“That is part of the more interesting aspects of the conversation,” is all Becker would offer at this time.
“We’re happy to co-operate, we can’t be parochial all the time. However, it is apparent that the senior governments, and the large stakeholders have their own interests in mind, which is understandable.”