A new Vedder Bridge has been at the top of Chilliwack’s wishlist for years.
A perennial choke point between Chilliwack and Cultus Lake, the infrastructure project received the long-awaited funding green light on Friday.
The $12.5 million bridge project will see the existing two-lane structure replaced with a two-lane steel plate girder bridge, with shoulders and multi-use pathways, and a single-lane roundabout at Vedder and Chilliwack Lake Road.
Construction is expected to start in 2016, with completion set for the fall of 2018.
“It’s a huge project,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “But in the meantime, the important thing for people to know is there won’t be any disruption to traffic because this bridge will remain (during construction).”
Eventually the old bridge will have to come down, she noted, since it won’t have clearance to withstand a one-in-200 year flood incident.
Mayor Gaetz was joined at the podium for the announcement by Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl, along with MLAs Laurie Throness for Chilliwack-Hope and John Martin for Chilliwack.
“I would like to extend our gratitude on behalf of Chilliwack city council for federal and provincial funding through the New Building Canada Fund.”
The bridge is key since it serves as an important transportation link for Chilliwack and the surrounding areas, said Gaetz.
The bridge replacement is something not only Chilliwack has been pushing for but also residents of nearby communities, the Fraser Valley Regional District and its electoral areas.
“It’s a great news story,” underlined MP Strahl. “It took all of us pulling together to get this on the radar of our various ministers.”
The pressing need for a new bridge did not go unnoticed.
“The federal investment in this project is the biggest investment in the Small Communities fund in the entire province,” said Strahl, adding his congratulations to the city.
“I know this was the number one infrastructure ask for the City of Chilliwack and I’m so pleased,” he said.
There was “an incredible amount of work behind the scenes” to pull off a green light for the bridge replacement, MLA John Martin also noted.
“There were a few points in time where we just weren’t sure if we were going to get to the finish line,” he said.
The new bridge will improve traffic flow and help to ensure safer commuting over the river.
“This is going to be one of the initiatives that is going to keep British Columbia and Chilliwack moving. It will be a safer and more efficient route on the new Vedder Bridge,” said Martin.
MLA Laurie Throness described the old Bailey bridge as one that was only expected to be a “temporary structure” or a stop-gap measure.
“But now we’re going to replace it with a permanent structure, and I think that is a really historic event for the people of Chilliwack,” he said.
The infrastructure project is a “triple partnership” with each level of government ponying up $4.1 million.
“I want to emphasize that this is a regional bridge,” said Throness.
“It will not only service the people of Chilliwack, it will service Yarrow, it will service Cultus Lake, Columbia Valley, Chilliwack River Valley and a million tourists a year who come to spend their time at Cultus Lake,” said Throness. “So it serves an important regional function.”
The option of putting in a new bridge at Tyson Road instead of at Vedder was considered but it was determined to be too expensive of a proposal, said Gaetz, at almost triple the cost.
“We did take a look at that option but it’s far too wide an expanse and not an appropriate way to put in a bridge,” she said.
The Tyson Road question came up more than once.
“I think it’s a great announcement,” said Louis De Jaeger, federal Liberal candidate for Chilliwack-Hope. “I just live down the road here and I’ve been here since 1998, and I’ve seen over the years how long that this gets backed up.”
He asked if the new bridge will address the backed-up traffic that sometimes extends north as far as the Planet Earth cafe on Vedder, and if the approaches to the bridge will be widened.
“How are we sure that this project is going to relieve that? And was Tyson really not worth it at all to look at?”
A recent study showed that 90 per cent of the people heading to Cultus Lake actually come through Yarrow, said De Jaeger.
City engineer Rod Sanderson responded explaining that the approaches to the bridge are also set to be widened and upgraded.
De Jaeger also asked about emergency routes through Soowahlie, and if consultation with Soowahlie had been initiated, and Sanderson said those discussions are taking place through the FVRD.
The Vedder Bridge announcement loomed large, but no less significant is the $63,250 that came through in federal funds for the Parkview Water System in Cultus Lake, added MP Strahl.
The $189,750 water project will give 70 residences potable water, and relief from poor water quality, low water pressure and firefighting challenges.
“We are grateful to the provincial and the federal governments for matching funds that will allow us to upgrade one of our community water systems and will improve water quality and pressure for Electoral Area H residents,” said Taryn Dixon, electoral area H director, FVRD.
When completed, the Cultus water system will produce a volume of drinking water that meets regulations with sufficient capacity to allow neighbouring subdivisions to also connect to it.
“We are proud to invest in projects like these two in Chilliwack,” added MP Strahl. “They will benefit our community by improving much needed local infrastructure.”