Anyone who has ever tried to get across the Vedder River bridge in Chilliwack on a hot summer day knows it can get snarled with traffic.
A request for expressions of interest from City of Chilliwack is seeking preliminary engineering designs on replacing the bridge to improve traffic flow.
“We know the traffic patterns in that area are bad in the summertime,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “We don’t need to do a traffic study to know the bridge is inadequate and has to be upgraded.”
In fact, the Vedder bridge and what should be done with it is one of the “top” subjects that city officials hear from residents about, she said.
“For people from Yarrow, Cultus Lake and Chilliwack River Valley, it’s a huge issue for them,” Gaetz said.
The RFEI process will show city officials who has the expertise to do the work, along with their respective visions, whether it’s replacing the bridge with a new structure, or making interim improvements in a phased-in approach.
The question of how pedestrians and cyclists will cross the river will also be considered, and the “dream” would be to keep the old bridge for that purpose, she said.
“We’ll have to see. The real challenge will be finding the funding,” underlined the mayor. “We can’t do it on our own.”
Bridge replacement has been the subject of three past studies, including one to get a preliminary cost estimate on replacing the bridge, but it is not in the city’s 10-year comprehensive financial plan.
In absence of a new bridge, officials have used the more cost-effective method of employing traffic flagging personnel at congested intersections, like the corner of Chilliwack Lake Road.
But proponents will have to predict traffic patterns for 10 years and 20 years into the future and suggest when intersections will need capacity increases.
Part of the challenge in terms of funding is the fact that the city is still in the process of “rebuilding its reserves,” Gaetz added.
But it’s nonetheless important to get all the advance planning work out of the way, she said.
Chilliwack will have to apply for range of grants from other levels of government to partner on the infrastructure project.
“We have to make sure it’s shovel ready,” she said. “Then at least we’ll have one domino standing up.”
The next part of the two-step process is for city officials to create a shortlist of applicants who responded to the RFEI, and then on to a request for proposals for design-build teams, which will include work plan details, timeline and costs.
“It’s good to get people talking about this,” Gaetz said.