The freeway islands, Langley, British Columbia

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

In 1999 or thereabouts, the British Columbia government and Langley Township agreed to locate commercial development within a new Highway 1 interchange at 200th Street, replacing a crumbling structure from the Diefenbaker era. Interchange traffic would be controlled by several sets of traffic signals, a departure from freer-flowing design traditions.

Highway 1/200 interchange, as shown in the 2013 Carvolth area plan

Highway 1/200th Street interchange, from the 2013 Township of Langley Carvolth area plan

The land use approach and the design were innovations in B.C. In an angry  response, some Langley residents launched a campaign for a “real” interchange without complex internal signals. Voters dumped the mayor who had signed the deal, and a new Township mayor and council worked to frustrate the project.

The incident is absent from the internet aside from odd notations in Township minutes.  I write mostly from memory. I worked at the BC Transportation Financing Authority, a now-defunct agency set up in the mid-’90s to solve a pattern of cost overruns in the highways ministry. One of the TFA’s lesser tasks was to find bits of private funding to support road and interchange projects. There was a shopping mall project at Mission, a golf course project north of Horseshoe Bay, a ski resort project on Vancouver Island. In Langley, the sale of land at Highway 1 and 200th Street was supposed to cut the cost of the interchange replacement  project by $6 million (again, from memory.)

Looking across the southeast freeway island at 200th St,

Looking across the southeast freeway island at 200th St.

The mayor who agreed to designate the interchange islands for commercial use was John Scholtens. He and his council allies lost their seats in the election of late 1999. Langley Times editor Frank Bucholz  recalled in March 2011 that while Scholtens’ team “accomplished a great deal…the methods used on many issues turned off voters.”

The new mayor, Kurt Alberts, was an art gallery owner and heritage buff. Municipal staff advised him that freeway island development would hurt plans to attract  commercial investment to other parts of the Township.

A cloverleaf near Kalamazoo, taken from the Michigan engineering website, Photo Brian Wolfe.

A classic cloverleaf interchange near Kalamazoo, Michigan, taken from the engineering website Photo by Brian Wolfe.

The Committee for a Real Interchange, meanwhile, argued that mixing local commercial traffic into freeway ramps was a recipe for frequent collisions. The interchange signaling system, according to a Kim Richter, a long-time Township councillor, would cause traffic to bog down. “All it will accomplish is idling traffic and increased smog,” she wrote in a blog post that has since disappeared. The B.C. government named an expert panel to review the issue, and the panel reported in 2001 that the design conformed to prevailing standards. This was beside the point; the fact that remained that  Langley was being asked to accept an interchange with three stoplights from north to south, something that would interfere with the North American dream of free-flowing vehicle traffic.

The Township communicated its displeasure, insisted on a redundancy of community meetings and dragged out the re-zoning and permitting processes. The new interchange opened in 2004 (as I recall); more than two years late and well over budget.

Langley’s freeway islands have filled in with retail, office and warehouse uses, although more slowly than originally forecast. Commercial development here is now deemed to be a good thing, not a bad thing, and the creation of automobile oriented commercial complexes along 200th Street is accelerating, along with a rise in traffic volumes.

As for design, the classic cloverleaf is widely considered to be obsolete for urban purposes; inefficient in its use of land, limited in capacity and prone to rollovers. However, if the Province was building the 200th Street Interchange today, it would impose different decisions to speed traffic flow, even at a higher financial cost; the tendency since 2005 has been to remove traffic signals (Pitt River Bridge, Cape Horn Interchange) rather than adding them.

Also, it is unlikely that we will see another interchange with development in the freeway islands — even if developers are prepared to build very close to freeway traffic.

Looking north across undeveloped freeway lands to the Colossus Cinema and the Golden Ears peaks.

Looking north across undeveloped lands along 88 Avenue to the Colossus Cinema and the Golden Ears peaks.

Apartment housing with a parking lot view on the northeast shoulder of the 200th Street Interchange area

Apartment housing with a parking lot view on the northeast shoulder of the 200th Street Interchange area

One response

  1. This article may now well be almost seven years old, but I feel personally vindicated by its content. This was a poor design, it would not work and it did not work, though it afterwards only worked marginally better due to what I called the band-aid solution of the “roundabout within the median” at 202nd Street. As the technical advisor (P.Eng.) to the “Committee for a Real Interchange”, I and my half-a-dozen (or sometimes more) die-hard fellow opponents (of different professions) tried very hard to stop this nonsensical project, at the ToL level (due to the necessary OCP changes) and then also eventually during a meeting with the Project Manager in the MoT office in Burnaby. One of our directors – a commercial realtor – actually phoned Costco’s Head Office, telling the big wigs there that they would surely lose money if they would proceed by building a warehouse at that location. These people listened, and went to a worse place, on 64th Avenue, but that’s another story.

    It is strange that the author, a former provincial government bureaucrat (now retired?) comments that there is nothing on the internet except in ToL Minutes. The “200th Street Interchange Review” that he provides a link to, was written by the Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Transportation and a panel of experts, dated September 7, 2001. I personally debunked that “Review” at the ToL Council Meeting following the one at which the Chief Engineer had presented it. I doubt if the ToL Minutes accurately record what I said in my debunking – they were quite selective in those days already.
    The article describes Kurt Alberts as an art gallery owner. This omits that he had been the ToL’s long term Director of Planner (a professional MCIP) and errs in that the “Birthplace of B.C. Gallery” was actually owned by his wife Brenda.

    To go on record after almost two decades, the Committee for a Real Interchange suggested a “real” interchange with directional ramps. Some of these were already operational in places like Portland Oregon. Unfortunately, the MoT sold the publicly owned right-of-way to a firm called Grosvenor Investments, owned by the richest person in the British Commonwealth, and left all Lower Mainland residents with an increasingly inadequate piece of infrastructure for years to come. Sad but true. Mark my words. Jacob de Raadt..

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