City councillors in Surrey, B.C., have approved the construction of a contentious new roadway through Bear Creek Park, with the work potentially beginning as early as this summer.
Councillors voted 5-4 along party lines late Monday in favour of connecting 84 Avenue through the south end of the park. Mayor Doug McCallum and four Safe Surrey councillors were in support.
"84th for many years has really been needed to be put through," said McCallum during a virtual council meeting Tuesday. "Our goal is to make movement in Surrey safe. That's what this road is going to do."
For years, there has been just one east-west arterial road available to drivers travelling through the heart of the city between 96 Avenue and 72 Avenue: the congested 88 Avenue thoroughfare.
The quieter 84 Avenue also runs east-west, but stops for several blocks to accommodate the south end of the park.
The idea of extending the road to connect through the park has been entertained in Surrey for more than a decade. Council voted in February to revisit the idea, setting off months of opposition from people concerned about protecting green space in a rapidly growing city and preserving wildlife habitats that exist in the park.
Protesters gathered outside Surrey City Hall before council voted on the project Tuesday. They were joined by the four councillors who would later vote against the road, including Coun. Linda Annis.
"We should have been doing more consulting with the people in Surrey as to whether or not they wanted this road to go through what I consider to be a very iconic park, and we didn't do that, so I will not be supporting the recommendations in this report," Annis told council as she voted against the project.
The engineering report presented to council on Tuesday recommended 84th become a two-lane road cutting through the park, with dedicated paths for cyclists and pedestrians.
It said the connector would lead to 130 fewer crashes on the roads around the park over a five-year period. According to ICBC statistics, the intersection had 193 accidents in 2019, the fourth-highest total for any location in the entire Lower Mainland.
"I believe very strongly the No. 1 issue is safety," said McCallum.
The mayor argued the city had done enough public consultation, including two pop-up clinics he personally attended.
"I was swamped by people," McCallum said, referring to the visit. "When I was on the walking track, talking to people there ... they were all for the road going through. I couldn't even run into anybody that didn't want it to go through."
A group called Friends of Bear Creek Park put together a video and letter-writing campaign to push council to vote against the new road. One petition earned more than 7,000 signatures.
"[The road] will have such an environmental impact. It will completely destroy the south end of the park and the peace and quiet and serenity," member Ken Bennett previously told CBC.
The group had concerns about the connector's effect on two salmon-bearing waterways: Bear Creek and King Creek. The report to council recommended a 40-metre bridge over Bear Creek and two-metre culvert around King Creek "to protect both fish and wildlife passage."
Engineers said a small wetland habitat between the creeks will be "partially disturbed" by construction of the road. Staff recommended building a new, larger wetland elsewhere in the park as a replacement.
The report said construction would finish in September 2022.