Construction has begun on a new moveable counterflow lane on the Alex Fraser Bridge.
Crews started on the first phase of the project Dec. 4, working to to remove the existing cast-in-place concrete barrier and install a new traffic signal and lighting at the Nordel Way northbound on-ramp intersection. This work is expected to be completed at the end of May 2018.
After that, work will begin on the project’s second phase, modifying the existing six lanes on the bridge and removing the shoulders to bring the total number of travel lanes to seven, and installing a moveable barrier that can be shifted to accommodate peak traffic periods with the help of a machine known as a “road zipper.”
Lindsay Transportation Solutions, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Lindsay Corporation, will provide the moveable barrier and two road zippers, and will manufacture the components in California and Nebraska. The contract is valued at approximately $20 million.
The majority of the work will be done at night so as to minimize the project’s impact on traffic, and three lanes will remain open in each direction during the day.
The new counterflow lane is expected to be complete in fall 2018. To accommodate the seven lanes, the speed limit over the bridge will be reduced from 90 to 70 km/h. Cyclist and pedestrian access will not be affected.
The $70-million project, first announced on January 19, 2017 by then-Transportation Minister Todd Stone, will be 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 is picking up the tab for the remaining $36,125,000.
“Our government is committed to finding solutions that will reduce gridlock, so people can spend less time stuck in traffic and more time with their families,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena in statement released on Dec. 21. “Installing a moveable barrier system on the Alex Fraser Bridge will bring congestion relief for commuters who frequently use this crossing.”
Also included in the bridge improvement project will be 13 dynamic message signs to be 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. That part of the project will go to tender in the spring of 2018.
According to the government’s webpage for the Alex Fraser improvement project, an average of more than 119,000 vehicles use the bridge every day, with drivers experiencing lines more than three kilometres long during rush hour.
Once work is complete, the ministry says, bridge users can expect to save about 12 to 16 minutes during the afternoon rush hour in the southbound direction and about six minutes during the morning rush hour in the northbound direction.
Rush hour congestion has been an ongoing source of frustration for regular users of the Fraser River crossing, prompting local and provincial governments to implement a number of projects and initiatives aimed at easing traffic both on and off the bridge.
In October 2016, the transportation ministry installed a traffic light at the Highway 91 southbound off-ramp to Cliveden Avenue on Annacis Island in order to dissuade drivers from using the industrial area as a means of bypassing bridge traffic. At the same time, Delta Police stepped up traffic enforcement on the island in the hopes of catching so-called bridge cheaters.
The tactic of southbound drivers using the long Annacis off-ramp, turning around on the island and then rejoining Highway 91 caused near-gridlock on the island, prompting businesses and employees to complain that their ability to move on or off the island is impeded, and Delta Police and Delta Fire to voice their concerns regarding access to the island in the event of an emergency.
In December 2016, construction began on a new interchange at 72nd Avenue that would eliminate the only traffic light on the Highway 91 corridor and a major choke point for traffic. Work is expected to last through to winter 2018.
Some drivers hoped the lifting of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on Aug. 31 would ease congestion on the Alex Fraser, but according a report by City of Delta staff released in November, that hasn’t been the case.
Citing transportation ministry numbers, the report says that while volume did increase on the Port Mann and Golden Ears — by 27 and 30 per cent, respectively — neither the George Massey Tunnel nor the Alex Fraser saw a noticeable change in traffic. The Pattullo Bridge, meanwhile, did see a 12-per-cent drop in traffic.
– with files from Katya Slepian and Jeff Nagel