Part of Highway 17 could end up in Delta's hands once the South Fraser Perimeter Road is completed.
That scenario was raised at a recent Delta council meeting where Geoff Freer, executive director of the Gateway Program, gave a presentation to update council members on the billion-dollar SFPR project.
When the 40-kilometre, four-lane highway is completed at the end of 2013, motorists on Highway 99 heading south - on their way to Tsawwassen, the ferry terminal or Deltaport - would be able to drive past Highway 17 to a new interchange around 72nd Street, where they would pick up the SFPR.
Freer said its possible "in some way, shape or form" Highway 17 from Deltaport Way to Ladner Trunk Road could be handed over to Delta by that point.
Noting Highway 17 should have reduced traffic, Freer said the roadway would be "a much nicer place to be" when the SFPR opens.
After his presentation, he told the Optimist nothing has been set when it comes to handing over Highway 17.
"That's down the road, so to speak. But what usually happens with these, we introduce a new road, you watch how people change their travel patterns and you take a look at the traffic numbers and work with the municipality. I think there will be a dramatic drop on Highway 17 because the majority of traffic will go on SFPR," he said.
Asked for his take on the scenario, Coun. Scott Hamilton said Delta might be able to limit truck traffic, but it would be difficult to prevent other vehicles from using Highway 17 as a shortcut. He said shoppers, for example, wanting to go to the proposed Tsawwassen First Nation malls might not be inclined to travel a longer distance down Highway 99 before looping around on the SFPR.
"Plus, if you have the option of not having to intermingle with truck traffic, I'd take the short, pleasant drive," he said.
"The vast majority of people who would be using it in the future are transiting our community, either destined to the TFN development or the ferries, but yet we'll be stuck with the costs of maintaining a highway and that can be pretty substantial."
Hamilton said he doubts the government would offer any funding to upgrade or maintain the highway before downloading it to Delta.
"I've been predicting this for a long time. The same thing happened with Highway 10 and that's a stretch of road we're responsible for now but not a dime came with it."
Mayor Lois Jackson also had concerns, saying there's still some uncertainty over whether drivers heading to or from the proposed TFN malls or housing development would elect to use Highway 17.
"These are questions we have to ask the minister of transportation... They, apparently, are looking at the transportation concerns from TFN at the moment and how Highway 17 will interconnect with their projects. Certainly, if they build out like they are anticipating, they are going to be looking at some pretty heavy traffic."
Both Jackson and Hamilton pointed to a report commissioned by Delta several years ago that concluded most of Highway 17's traffic heads for the George Massey Tunnel and does not travel northeast, which would be along the route of the SFPR.
Council recently approved a motion by the mayor directing staff to develop terms of reference for a traffic study.
Concerned, in particular, about tie-ups at the tunnel, council would like to see a planning process identify options to address both current congestion as well as future traffic growth.