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Fraser River tunnel offers sheltered lanes for cyclists

Cyclists will have separate lane through Fraser River tunnel, but Delta council says a proper exit at River Road needed
Fraser River tunnel, built by 2030, will have separate pedestrian and cycling corridor

Once the new Fraser River tunnel project opens seven years from now, in 2030, cyclists and pedestrians will have an easy ride and walk beneath the Fraser River.

The $4.1-billion project will have a corridor that runs down the middle of the tunnel and which is separated by concrete walls from road to ceiling, with its own ventilation system, to protect non-motorized traffic.

“That part is great because we’re going to have a nice, safe, easy trip through the tunnel in either direction,” said Neil Pope.

“From the cycling community’s standpoint, from HUB’s standpoint, we’re very happy with that part of the tunnel design,” he added.

Pope, co-chair of the TFN-Delta committee with HUB Cycling, says while his group likes the overall design of the tunnel, it also supports Delta’s request for a second exit or overpass out of the tunnel on to River Road and into Ladner.

The group wrote a letter to the Fraser River tunnel project team noting that the original project included an overpass.

Cyclists as well as motorists would benefit from the second access, he added.

“This overpass would provide a significantly more efficient and safe connection for people cycling west or east of the Fraser River tunnel,” Pope said in his letter last summer.

Pope adds that an overpass at River Road would help cyclists travelling to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and to work in Tilbury, Ladner and Richmond as well as help people walking between Ladner and Deas Island Regional Park.

Pope pointed out that few people know what the cycling lane in the new tunnel actually looks like. “They have no idea.

“The fact that it will be a separate, enclosed cycling lane, running right down the middle, it’s just really interesting to people,” he said.

“We’re really happy with that aspect of the design,” he said pointing out the tunnel will have a slope six per cent, the same as the grade on the Alex Fraser Bridge. For those on e-bikes, that’s not an issue, he added.

His group, HUB Cycle, though is worried about the temporary closure of the Millennium Trail, during construction, which would mean losing access beneath Hwy. 99 that currently allows cyclists to move from one side of the highway to the other.

“That’s our main crossing of the highway. So they’ve got to find a way around that.”

Constructing an overpass at River Road will make it easier for cyclists to access Ladner Village, he added.

With more e-bikes and e-scooters on the road, it makes it more important for cities to build good cycling infrastructure, he added.

“Now, we’ve got way more people cycling right, and it’s brought a whole new demographic to cycling that wasn’t there before,” Pope said.

The pandemic also got more people on two wheels on to the road. “And they’re still out there. It hasn’t gone away.”

Coun. Dylan Kruger said that a second overpass would include an active cycling component, instead of using Millennium Trail as the access point, which is more of a recreational trail. “That’s (the former) a much more realistic cycling connection.

“We really need to re-establish that River Road overpass connection in order to give another second exit out of Ladner for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists,” Kruger said.

The overpass would cost about $40 million, which is a fraction of the $4.1 billion total cost of the tunnel, he pointed out.

He added that currently, there’s no plan now to keep Millennium Trail open, beneath Hwy. 99, during the seven-year construction period.

Kruger said that if Delta is going to grow, then infrastructure is needed, especially infrastructure that means people aren’t reliant on their cars to get in and out of the community.

“The popularity has skyrocketed and ebikes have opened up biking to a whole new demographic of people … You can now take the bike on much longer trips, and you can actually, in many cases, use it for the purposes of daily commutes,” Kruger said.

“If we’re going to achieve the housing targets the province has put in place for us, we have to achieve a second exit out of Ladner. That’s the only way we are going to be able to accommodate the vehicle traffic that we know is going to be coming with growth,” said Kruger.

The overpass was also part of the original plans for the tunnel, “It always been our understanding that that connection would have been a part of this project,” he said, adding it’s been part of the Ladner area plan since the 1990s.

While the new tunnel is not part of the Cycling Master Plan the document does include adding dedicated bike lanes along River Road, he said.