The South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) will be officially opened before Christmas, provincial Minister of Transportation Todd Stone told the Surrey Board of Trade at a luncheon November 21.
The $1.26 billion, 40-kilometre-long expressway has been more than a couple decades in the making.
“We expect to have a grand opening before Christmas,” Stone said.
“For Surrey and Delta, there’ll be a lot less truck and other vehicular traffic on municipal roads, and that translates into a better quality of life for residents and easier access to businesses.”
The SFPR will connect four highways, running from 176th Street, roughly along the Fraser River’s banks in Surrey and North Delta, before cutting through the rest of Delta to the Roberts Bank Superport.
Its construction created 4,000 construction jobs and the SFPR will ultimately create 7,000 long-term jobs in Surrey and Delta, Stone said.
“When it opens next month people in businesses in the area will have a whole new way to move south of the Fraser.”
Stone is a first-term Liberal MLA, for Kamloops-South Thompson, and this was his first trip into Surrey as minister of highways.
He told the audience of local movers and shakers at Eaglequest Golf Course that since 2001, the provincial government has invested more than $15 billion in transportation projects, with $6.4 billion of that in the Lower Mainland. Stone said that $3.7 billion more will be spent over the next three years, in order to “beef up” B.C.’s infrastructure, as the province increases commerce with India, Japan, China and Korea.
“The most important and exciting part is we’re just getting started,” he said.
Stone announced that the 54-year-old George Massey Tunnel will be replaced with a bridge, which is in the design stage.
“One of the options is potentially a toll there,” he said.
Its construction will start in 2017.
“If we want to provide rapid transit south of the Fraser, into Delta, we can’t do it with the existing tunnel. So we plan to build a new bridge to improve access and drive time for motorists,” Stone revealed.
“We’re taking steps to ease congestion until then. In partnership with Surrey, we’re working on improving traffic flow across the border. We’re also working with Surrey on a full interchange at Highway 99 and 16th Avenue.”
Stone was applauded after telling his audience he sees the tolling issue is “an issue of fairness and equity for the hard-working people South of the Fraser.”
B.C.’s tolling policy is over 10 years old, he noted.
“I will commit to everyone in this room that one of my goals high up on my to-do list is to bring forward British Columbia’s tolling policy for a vigorous discussion and debate.”
Dave Hayer, formerly the Liberal MLA for Surrey-Tynehead, asked Stone if light rail will link North Surrey with Cloverdale and Langley, or if SkyTrain will be extended from King George Station.
“At the end of the day, it’s the mayors’ council that needs to determine the priorities for the region,” Stone said.
“Those discussions are actively taking place.”
Stone said a referendum with a direct and clear question concerning the region’s transit needs will be held but he didn’t say when. Nor has the question been confirmed, but he expects that to be worked out soon.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to get to ‘yes’ when the referendum’s held,” he said. “I am committed to a yes on this referendum.”
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson suggested that the referendum should coincide with next November’s civic elections.
All told, she was pleased with what Stone had to say.
“I heard everything I wanted to hear,” she told the Surrey Now. “I am really pleased about an official announcement from the minister relative to the new bridge to replace the Massey tunnel. I’m very happy to hear he wants to work with the mayors and is looking at governance models. I’m very happy to hear that he understands what’s happening south of the river and is prepared to look at innovative solutions for us. I’m very happy about everything he said here today.”
“He’s a gem, Jackson said.
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin was less smitten with Stone’s speech, however.
“I would have liked to have heard a bit more definition about what the referendum question’s going to be, and the timing,” Baldwin said. “It’s still up in the air. There’s an expectation there that the mayors’ committee, which fundamentally has no authority whatsoever, and a very limited budget, is going to take a major role in the referendum, which is not something that we were prepared to do.”
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts had met with Stone on Wednesday and did not attend Thursday's luncheon, as she was on city business in Victoria.