Langley City council has officially endorsed an $8.3 million funding agreement with Surrey for construction of the “combo” overpass project, part of the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor program.
In a 5-2 vote at a closed meeting on Monday, the City gave final approval to the contribution, which accounts for 6.8 per cent of the $121 million total cost of the project.
The RBRC program is aimed at reducing traffic congestion in Delta, Surrey and Langley, as the length and frequency of freight trains travelling to and from Deltaport significantly increases over the coming years.
Following the closed session, during which Councillors Dave Hall and Jack Arnold voted against authorizing staff to execute the agreement, the issue was brought before the public at a televised council meeting.
The so-called combo project will see a trio of overpasses constructed just across the City’s western border in Surrey, as well as new road construction and improvements to existing roads and intersections.
Another $200,000 has also been set aside for a total of up to $8.5 million in case additional upgrades are deemed necessary. The City’s portion of the project is being funded through casino proceeds and DCC funds.
The plan also calls for the 196 Street right of way, south of 56 Avenue to be developed into a two-lane road connecting two of the bridges.
It is this road which has created backlash among residents of Huntsfield Green, a Langley City townhouse complex located on the border of Langley City and Surrey, with many units located just metres from where the new road will be built.
Three public meetings have been held over the past several months to outline plans for the rail corridor project, and to offer residents the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback, but Hall said he was not satisfied that all the concerns raised by Langley residents had been adequately addressed before the vote was taken.
“People asked three times why Production Boulevard could not be connected to 55A,” Hall said.
“The intention was that a number of options be explored. We didn’t listen or look at that specific option.
“The argument is that it would affect businesses in Surrey, but we should be advocating for the residents of Langley.
“Why have an open house and say, ‘We value your input,’ if we don’t even pursue it?”
However, Mayor Peter Fassbender insisted the route had been sufficiently explored and was deemed not to be a viable option.
“This is an emotional issue, especially for people living at Huntsfield Green,” Fassbender acknowledged.
“The comments that we don’t care, I find disturbing.”
Speaking directly into the television camera and addressing residents of the townhouse complex, the mayor said: “We’ve done this for your benefit as well. We will continue to meet with Huntsfield Green residents.
“It’s time to get on with planning for the future, because that’s our responsibility.”
Before the discussion ended, however, Councillor Teri James took a swipe at the two council members who voted against endorsing the agreement.
“It’s extremely easy, when you know the bulk of council is going to vote in favour of something (controversial) — that it will go through — it’s easy to vote ‘no,’” she said.
“The easy thing to do,” retorted Hall, “is to rubber stamp it. The tough thing is to stand up and ask questions.
“Why are you even here if you’re not willing to ask the questions?”
“We asked the experts the hard questions,” said Councillor Rosemary Wallace, adding she took offence at Hall’s implication, “that makes it appear to the public that we’re not working.
“We work in closed sessions. We ask the questions in closed sessions.”
Councillor Rudy Storteboom, who voted in favour of the agreement, said the coal trains which travel through the middle of town on a daily basis have great potential for disaster at level crossings.
“I wanted to vote no. But there is a net benefit to the City, for pennies on the dollar. I believe it will save lives,” he said.
Storteboom added the project will go ahead whether or not the City is at the table.