Langley vs. Surrey means different approaches to road building

Development drives road construction in both cities.

How do residents of Willoughby deal with traffic jams on 208th Street?

“With lots of patience,” said Brad Richert, a local realtor who lived in the area from 2010 to last year.

Richert recently posted a lengthy critique of the Township’s development strategy in Willoughby to Facebook, including their approach to road building.

Some of the issues Willoughby residents complain about are rooted in policies that make Langley Township different from its neighbours, including Surrey.

In both communities, when new housing developments are built, road development goes hand-in-hand, so that it can be paid for through development cost charges, or DCCs.

But major roads, known as arterials, are a different matter.

Compare 72nd Avenue in Surrey’s Clayton Heights to 208th Street in Willoughby.

At present, 208th Street is variously two, three, or four lanes wide, depending on whether or not development has been completed on both sides of the road.

Meanwhile, several hundred meters of 72nd Avenue in Surrey’s Clayton Heights, bordering Langley, was widened from two lanes with gravel shoulders to four lanes all at once, a change that was announced in 2014 and completed in 2015.

The difference in outcomes is the result of a difference in policy.

In Surrey, developers are not required to construct any road works on arterial roads such as 72nd Avenue, according to Sam Lau, Surrey’s manager of land development.

“The road works on 72nd Avenue… were completed under a City capital construction project,” Lau said.

Meanwhile the Township expands arterial roads the way it expands smaller side streets. Each portion is built in front of new development. Lots that sit vacant awaiting new construction don’t get wider roads, or new sidewalks or bike paths.

“That’s how we try to achieve it, because it’s more cost effective,” said Paul Cordeiro, Langley Township’s manager of transportation engineering.

There are exceptions, Cordeiro said. Small gaps may be filled in after a street is largely developed. That happened on Langley Township’s side of 72nd Avenue in recent years, Cordeiro said.

“Everything except for two or three lots had been done,” he said.

• Read More: Langley street widening would be costly

The reason for the difference is cost.

“That’s how we try to achieve it, because it’s more cost effective,” Cordeiro said.

A 2015 report to Township council, which said that widening 208th Street from the overpass to the Willowbrook Connector would cost more than $46 million.

However, the Surrey approach is not always without controversy.

In 2014, when residents along 72nd Avenue west of 196th Street learned their road was about to be widened, they launched a protest movement. Road widening took away gravel shoulders where many residents had been parking.

The city of Surrey eventually compromised with residents, leaving new road lanes as on-street parking, but only temporarily. All of 72nd Avenue will eventually become a four-lane road.

It’s not just 208th Street that needs to be revisited, argues Richert

“What they’ve done is created a Vancouver-style density with a suburban road network,” he said.

Some of the older areas of Willoughby, like Yorkson east of 208th Street, don’t have nearly enough connectivity, Richert argues.

The Langley realtor said the whole area needs more of a grid-based system to allow traffic to get off the main arterial roads like 208th Street. At present, no north-south roads other than 200th or 208th allow traffic to get all the way through Willoughby from 72nd Avenue to 86th.

While more roads are being built in areas now under development, it’s taking place piecemeal, as developers build.

“Surrey has found a happier medium,” Richert said. He suggested the Township could look at creating its own development firm for big infrastructure projects, the way Surrey does.

Though Richert has moved out of Willoughby, he’s already planning to move back next year.

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