Commuters crossing the Alex Fraser got some rush hour relief this week as the bridge’s long-awaited counterflow lane came online Monday morning.
Work crews finished reconfiguring the six dedicated northbound and southbound lanes to make room for a seventh lane and installing a movable centre barrier in mid-September, opening the new lane to southbound traffic.
On Monday (Dec. 16) the “road zipper” truck that moves the barrier made its debut, giving commuters a fourth lane northbound during the morning commute.
“We have finished the testing, we have finished the training, and the zipper will be going live early next week,” Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North and Parliamentary Secretary for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, said at a demonstration of the zipper truck on Thursday, Dec. 12. “That is excellent news for the people of my community, for the people of this region. It means that people will be saving time, precious time that they could be spending with their families.”
“It’s all positive for the region. It’s good for economic activity, it’s good for safety and, most important, it’s good for families who want to get home and spend time with their loved ones. So it’s excellent news all around.”
The movable barrier system, a first in Western Canada, improves capacity on the bridge and eliminates potential for cross-over collisions during counterflow as traffic is continually separated by barriers, according to a press release from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Kahlon said the movable barrier is just as safe as the previous immobile concrete divider on the bridge.
“Each pillar weighs about 1,500 pounds, so yes it’s the exact same,” he said, adding the zipper truck lifts the barrier sections up and moves them over, rather than pushing or dragging the divider into place.
The extra lane will now be in effect for northbound traffic every weekday from 4:30 to 11:30 a.m. Outside of these hours, the fourth lane will be open to southbound traffic.
An average of 119,000 vehicles cross the Alex Fraser Bridge everyday, according to the ministry, with drivers experiencing lines more than three kilometres long during rush hour.
With the counter-flow system operational, the ministry expects drivers crossing the bridge northbound in the morning will save about six minutes, while those heading south during the afternoon rush will save between 12 and 16 minutes.
|Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North and Parliamentary Secretary for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, announced the movable counterflow lane on the Alex Fraser Bridge will be operational “early next week” at a demonstration of the zipper truck used to move the barrier on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (James Smith photo)|
“Folks coming home from work southbound … they’ve already been saving that time and I’ve been hearing lots of positive things,” Kahlon said. “And people that are taking this route every day will tell you that five minutes, six minutes, 12 minutes, all is very important, so it’s a game changer for many people in this region.”
The ministry has two all-weather road zippers — one will be used to move the barrier, and the other will act as backup in case it is needed — and switching the direction of the counterflow lane will take about 20 minutes.
The $70-million project, first announced on Jan. 19, 2017, was partially funded by the federal government — to the tune of $33,965,000 — through the provincial-territorial infrastructure component of its New Building Canada Fund. The province picked up the tab for the remaining $36,125,000.
The project necessitated repairing the main span deck, modifying expansion joints and stiffening girders in order to strengthen the bridge to accommodate the additional weight of another lane of traffic. As well, adding the extra lane required narrowing the existing six lanes by about six inches and eliminating the shoulders. As a result, the speed limit across the bridge was lowered to 70 km/h.
Additional work included creating additional lanes southbound on Highway 91 between Nordel Way and 72nd Avenue, and upgrading the Cliveden Avenue and Nordel Way interchanges, including installing a new signal for traffic accessing the Alex Fraser Bridge northbound from Nordel Way.
Upgrades for cyclists and pedestrians include new wayfinding signs, better access via the Cliveden Avenue interchange, widening narrow sections of sidewalk on the bridge and improving the Cliveden and Nordel pathways.
Also included in the bridge improvement project is the South of Fraser Advance Traveller Information System — 13 dynamic message signs placed strategically around Metro Vancouver to advise motorists in real time of delays on the four major Fraser River crossings: the Alex Fraser, Port Mann and Pattullo bridges and the George Massey Tunnel. The signs will be located along Highway 17, Highway 1, Highway 10, Marine Way and Knight Street.
The South of Fraser Advance Traveller Information System portion of the project is expected to be finished in spring 2020.