At least 30,000 vehicles use First Avenue each day, but cross it off as an easy route through Vancouver in the coming months.
Beginning in late April to the winter of 2018, there will be partial lane closures on East First Avenue between Nanaimo Street and Boundary Road, while East First Avenue will be completely closed between Clark Drive and Nanaimo Street from mid-June to the end of August.
The closures are because Fortis B.C. is replacing 20 kilometres of gas line running from Vancouver to Coquitlam.
It could mean a traffic nightmare for commuters, as well as create challenges for residents and businesses on or near East First Avenue.
Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s general manager of engineering services, said commuters can take alternative routes such as Hastings, Broadway or 12th, depending on their destinations.
To mitigate congestion concerns, the city is extending rush hour and bus lane regulations along Broadway and Hastings to increase capacity. Morning rush hour regulations will expand by half an hour and run from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., while evening regulations will expand by one hour and run from 3 to 7 p.m.
When asked if he expects the road closures to create traffic chaos, Dobrovolny pointed out First Avenue has been closed in sections for construction in the past.
“One of the things that’s really important is we have a robust road network and it’s a grid pattern. Because it’s a grid pattern, there are lots of alternatives,” he said.
Dobrovolny stressed “know before you go” by checking the city’s website for road closures at vancouver.ca/roadwork or using the city’s VanConnect app to get that information.
He said city staff will monitor road use during the East First Avenue closures to see if drivers are cutting through residential neighbourhoods. Traffic adjustments will be made if needed.
He also suggested people travelling shorter distances consider walking, cycling or taking transit.
Meanwhile, Adanac overpass, which crosses over Highway 1, will be closed to vehicle traffic next week, although it will remain open to buses, cyclists and pedestrians. That’s partly to stop it from being used as a shortcut by drivers trying to avoid congestion on main arterials due to work on East First Avenue, and partly to address some neighbourhood residents’ concerns about traffic in the area. City staff will determine if it remains closed permanently after Fortis finishes its work. Some residents already oppose the overpass closure and have registered their complaints with the city.
Meanwhile, Fortis B.C.’s Melanie Kilpatrick, project director, said during construction on East First Avenue, major intersections such as Commercial Drive, Clark Drive, Nanaimo Street, Renfrew Street, Rupert Street and Boundary Road will be kept open to north-south traffic. But other roads will be closed to north-south traffic while crews are working in particular areas.
“For example, while we’re working between Renfrew and Rupert, Renfrew and Rupert will always remain open, however Nootka, Lillooet and Windermere will be closed one block north and one block south to accommodate construction,” she said.
Kilpatrick said the utility company has worked closely with municipalities to plan traffic management while the project is underway.
“We recognize closing a busy commuter route like East First Avenue — a route that’s used by approximately 30,000 vehicles travelling on it every day — will have significant impacts to commuter routines,” she said. “It’s also where people live and work and we understand this will disrupt many people’s daily routines and schedules. We are carrying out a full closure between Nanaimo and Clark because we require the work space to be of a certain size to work safely and efficiently and it allows us to complete the work more quickly.”
Doug Stout, Fortis B.C.’s vice-president of external relations and market development, said Fortis has created a site at talkingenergy.ca to share information about the project. There will be a 24/7 project phone line for people to contact if they have issues and there will also be an information session about the Vancouver portion of the project later in April.
He noted that there are about 200 business along the 20 kilometre stretch where the gas line is being replaced. He said Fortis is working with businesses on an individual basis to address their concerns and minimize the impact on them.