The Surrey Board of Trade is welcoming a multi-million dollar highway project south of the Fraser River, but one critic is concerned the long-term impact will be the exact opposite of the intention.
Last week the federal and provincial governments, along with the Tsawwassen First Nation and the Fraser Port Authority, announced highway improvements totaling $250 million in Delta and Surrey.
The government said the improvements will ease commuter congestion and increase truck traffic to the port. Increasing truck traffic will help facilitate Asia-Pacific trade and in turn boost the economy, it added.
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said the new project was a positive initiative.
"This is a pretty significant announcement. It really focuses on increasing our road networks to focus on international trade," she said.
Peter Hall, a professor of urban studies at Simon Fraser University, was more critical.
He said rather than ease congestion, the improvements will do just the opposite in the long run.
"Frankly I think they're defeating their own end," said Hall.
"We know that expanded growth capacity results in more traffic, so I fear they're still caught in that self-defeating cycle of trying to build more infrastructure in order to have less traffic."
Hall questioned the province's decision to invest in the specific highways, especially considering the Massey Bridge project, which is intended to ease congestion anyway.
The improvements to the highways will make it easier for commuters from White Rock and South Surrey to avoid the new bridge and the toll by opening up access to the Alex Fraser Bridge, he said.
"What do you care about when you're driving? You care about how quickly and reliably you can get where you want to go."
Hall said he would prefer to see an investment in rail networks being built to ship goods to the port and he questioned the Fraser Port Authority's decision to put $80 million into inland roads instead.
Economic benefits worth it
However Huberman said the province's multi-million dollar plan is aligned with Surrey's goals for economic development.
She agreed with the government's assessment that road upgrades will make B.C. more economically competitive and open up opportunities for increased international trade.
The CEO stated Surrey is a major manufacturer of goods shipped to Asian markets like food, beverages and metal products — all of which Huberman said will have an easier time getting to port after the upgrades.
Construction is set to begin this year and continue until 2021.
"There's always short-term pain for long-term gain," added Huberman when asked about construction delays.
"In the long term it's going to benefit everybody."
With files from The Early Edition
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Surrey Board of Trade applauds $250M highway development