Leaving the Highway 17A overpass closed to southbound traffic could potentially hurt local business as commuters learn new driving habits.
That’s the message from the Delta Chamber of Commerce who is adding its voice to the call for opening one of the northbound lanes to southbound traffic.
A commercial truck headed south on Highway 99, crashed into the overpass on July 18, damaging two girders and closing the southbound lanes on the Highway 17A overpass indefinitely.
Motorists are now starting to find other ways of getting to shops and services, sometimes avoiding Delta altogether, according to chamber executive-director Jill McKnight.
McKnight said residents and business owners are telling her that people are avoiding travelling to the north side of Highway 99, and not visiting local farms, breweries and restaurants.
As well, she’s heard that people are no longer shopping in Ladner, but instead driving through the George Massey Tunnel to Richmond.
She’s worried that if those changes continue, they’ll become new habits.
Safety’s also an issue.
“Multiple times a day, we are seeing tractor trailers making U-turns on 60th Avenue in order to double back along River Road,” said McKnight, adding chamber staff have witnessed multiple U-turns at the bottom of the 17A overpass so that vehicles don’t have to go through the George Massey Tunnel. “If the overpass is closed for an extended period of time, people will start building habits that potentially discourage their engagement of businesses located north of Highway 99, or in Delta altogether.”
She also points out the longer distances that people have to drive to detour from 60th Ave. to Ladner Trunk Road and Harvest Drive. Normally, that’s only three km, but having to go through the George Massey Tunnel and then doubling back, adds another 11 km, while detouring via Highway 17 to Deltaport exit adds another 23 km.
Chamber board chair Rosanne Horner is asking the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to convert the northbound HOV lane, to a southbound lane – that will at least provide some southward access across the overpass.
Delta South MLA Ian Paton has also lobbied for this change.
“Given the extended delays in re-opening this overpass, it is necessary to find another option for workers, residents and visitors to Delta,” Horner said in a July 26 letter to Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.
This could be done in a “timely fashion,” Horner said and will address residents’ concerns.
“This specific lane closure is causing tremendous disruption for businesses and residents alike who use this route for commuting, access to farmland, transportation of materials and supplies and connecting to the ferries,” she said.