For the past 20-plus years, I have been a commuter.
Over the span of two decades, I have been weaving my fuel-efficient diesel-powered car through the spider web of quiet backroads and highways of Surrey, Langley and Aldergrove on my way to and from Mission.
Constantly searching for that perfect fusion between sanity and speed has been my daily routine.
For years the drive has been a stressful, but manageable, 45 minutes each way, made bearable mostly by listening to endless hours of talk shows, sporting events or pop radio stations spinning a continuous loop of mind-pablum. Currently, the commute each way now takes well beyond an hour.
I tend to travel with the same daily crew of road warriors, all exhibiting similar characteristics: The steely forward stare, hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel, no eye contact unless it’s a welcoming one-finger salute to a fellow commuter trying to get home one car length quicker than the rest.
Despite the appearance of the new Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, and Trans Canada Highway improvements, the commute has become an exercise in hurry-up-and-wait gridlock.
So what gives? These much-touted (by politicians) and often maligned (by taxpayers) projects were supposed to ease commute times.
The increase in traffic through the Fraser Valley may be attributed to the recent real estate sell-off west of the Port Mann.
From March 2015 to March 2016, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board posted the highest number of sales ever in a one-year period, with more than 3,000 listings sold – a 62-per-cent increase over the previous year.
Empty-nesters wanting to downsize and the many young families looking for affordable space to put down roots are taking advantage of the allure of suburban elbow room.
Unfortunately, the reality of no direct east-west transit options along the Highway1 corridor to help mitigate the congestion can be seen daily at the 208 Street overpass.
Millions of dollars have been spent widening the highway in an attempt to move traffic volumes east to Langley, however, funnelling traffic from four lanes to two at various choke points beyond 200 Street has only intensified the gridlock.
This fall, the provincial government released a 10-year transportation plan outlying its vision to add one lane in each direction from Langley to Abbotsford, but still there was no long-term transit plan for moving the high volume of commuters prepared to leave their cars at home.
For years residents have been calling for a train system from Chilliwack across the Port Mann Bridge, or at least with a link with the rapid bus system in Langley, but all requests have fallen on deaf ears.
Hopefully the upcoming provincial election will help to put better spectacles on the short-sighted vision that doesn’t seem to see much further east than Surrey.
Until then, I think I need a few audio books and a pair of rose-coloured glasses.
Evan Seal is a photojournalist at The Leader.