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Near gridlock woes hurting Tilbury businesses
Business owners in the Tilbury Industrial Park along River Road are growing frustrated with traffic gridlock they say is costing them productivity.
Robert Miller, president of Diaset Products Ltd., wrote an open letter to Mayor Lois Jackson saying the congestion at the Hwy. 99 overpass is causing employee tardiness, issues with suppliers and couriers, and is full of "heavy and slow" trucks.
The letter says outbound shipments are routinely delayed because the traffic woes make suppliers reluctant to guarantee deliveries at certain hours when congestion is the worst.
Jackson said she was sympathetic and the issue is of great importance to the municipality.
"We have been working very hard trying to either get another tunnel or have it addressed by the provincial government," said Jackson, adding the city will complete a traffic study in September which can be given to the minister of transportation.
"That overpass there is just archaic, and the onus really rests with the provincial government because that's their road and their tunnel," she said.
Clint Morgan, president of Delta Container Limited Partnership, says it's a combination of factors, including poor transit, that contribute to the problem. Since his employees have to be at work by 6 a.m., there's no way for them to take transit, making them rely on their cars, which adds to the afternoon congestion.
"It is the addition of all those people trying to go home and the bottle neck approaching the tunnel that causes traffic to back up as it does going west," he said, adding eastbound traffic has also worsened with construction work around River Road and Nordel Way.
Michael Renwick, managing director at Great Pacific Bioproducts, was steamed when he missed an important meeting last week because he was trapped in a veritable parking lot.
"What happens, classically, is people try and figure out a way around it," he says. "And, so what they do is they take every other road that they can access that feeds into Hwy. 17 and they back that whole system up."
Renwick said another issue is all the feeder routes trying to merge into the single counterflow lane into the Massey Tunnel. He estimated there's as many as 10 lanes of traffic feeding into one.
"There needs to be a solution, but government appears to not be listening to the number of people that are complaining," he said.
One Delta businesswoman took the opportunity to raise the issue to premier Christy Clark during a speaking engagement at a women's-only luncheon on Aug. 3.
Echoing other businesses, she said she was struggling to retain employees because of the commute.
"After they have sat in the tunnel for an hour and a half trying to get home—10, 15, 20 days in a row. And it's been a growing issue. These traffic issues have stunted our growth here in Delta," she said.
Jackson said she's hoping the completion of the $1-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR), the new 40 km provincial highway linking Fraser Heights to Deltaport Way, will alleviate the local traffic issues in the River Road area and allow for more commercial growth.
But the Delta Chamber of Commerce isn't so sure that's going to help, since the plan calls for the incorporation of at least two intersections instead of interchanges along the River Road portion. According to research gathered by a member of the chamber's transportation committee, David Turbitt, the annual societal costs of installing intersections will be as much as $10 million per year. That includes fuel costs, loss of time from congestion, loss of productivity, and projected costs related to accidents.
"Every time you take one of those big trucks and stop it and restart it, that's about half a litre of diesel. And they're going to be doing that thousands of times a day," he said.
Turbitt studied U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration statistics of traffic flows and cross-referenced those with the province's own published materials to estimate that the number of vehicles on the SFPR will be at 160 per cent capacity during rush hours.
Turbitt further pointed out that when the Alex Fraser bridge opened in 1986, an interchange was planned at the intersection of Hwy. 91 and 72nd Avenue, but was never built. As a result, the highway is heavily congested at that traffic light.
He believes the same problems will present themselves at the planned intersections at Tilbury Industrial Park and the Sunbury Connection.
Interchanges on the SFPR are scheduled to be deferred until about 2021 at Sunbury and 2031 at Tilbury. Turbitt says it's a mistake to wait.
"To save the ministry of transport 'x-million' dollars in terms of deferred costs, society as a whole is going to be paying many times that."
Geoff Freer, executive director of the Gateway Program which heads the SFPR, says the interchanges will be installed before there's any traffic problems.
"Before we even started we did an awful lot of work, traffic modelling, traffic specialists, forecasting what traffic would do along SFPR," he said, adding Delta also conducted a study which concluded intersections will not increase congestion.
"I think it's important to really look at what SFPR will really do. You'll be able to go from Tsawwassen to Hwy. 1 in Surrey/Langley in less than 30 minutes and you'll have to go through four intersections," he said. Today, that route runs through roughly 25 intersections.
Freer said traffic numbers will be studied from opening day, scheduled for December 2013, and the province will add interchanges sooner if warranted. Freer also said he believes traffic on River Road through Tilbury will decrease by 90 per cent when the SFPR opens.
Delta Container's Morgan agrees it will help.
"I do believe the SFPR will resolve the commute issue, or at least improve it greatly and River Road will become a road strictly used to service the businesses that border it," he said.