Work on a major sewer line on Columbia Street is expected to wrap up in February – weather permitting.
Upgrades are continuing on the New Westminster interceptor, which takes sewage from Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, most of Burnaby and parts of New Westminster to the treatment plant in Delta.
Metro Vancouver officials told council last March that Phase 1 of the project would be done in the summer and fall of 2021 and work that couldn’t be completed in 2021 would be coordinated with the Pattullo Bridge replacement project.
Colin Meldrum, director of engineering, design and construction for liquid waste services at Metro Vancouver, said work on the project is still underway.
“Due to a number of factors, including inclement weather and supply chain challenges, the initial project timeline has been extended, with expected completion of the most vulnerable section by February 2022, weather permitting,” he said in a statement to the Record. “A municipal water main in the vicinity also needs to be relocated.”
Meldrum said future work that’s required along Columbia Street, from Blackwood Street to McBride Boulevard, will be completed in coordination with the upcoming Pattullo Bridge replacement project. He said Metro Vancouver’s project team is in regular communication with the Pattullo Bridge replacement project team to coordinate project scope and schedules and to mitigate traffic impacts around project sites.
Meldrum said the New Westminster Interceptor is a critical piece of regional infrastructure that collects liquid waste from several communities and carries it to the Annacis Island wastewater treatment plant.
“Metro Vancouver inspectors discovered that a section of the pipe is in poor condition and needs repairs to prevent potential spills or sinkholes. Metro Vancouver is completing the Columbia Street repair project in the interest of public health, safety and the environment,” he said. “Our team chose a construction methodology that would shorten the project schedule and minimize impacts – multiple crews (up to five) work concurrently at various locations to complete the work as quickly as possible.”
When Metro Vancouver officials appeared before city council in December 2020 to outline plans to rehabilitate about 1.6 kilometres of a major sewer line on Columbia Street between McBride Boulevard and Front/Columbia streets, council members expressed concern the project could be a “deathblow” to Columbia Street businesses already reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. At that time, council directed staff to work with Metro Vancouver on a different timeline for the project.
However, council members supported the project in March 2021, after Metro Vancouver officials returned to council and reemphasized the need to do the “urgent” repairs to the sewer main. They told council that a discharge of raw sewage and the development of a sink hole on Columbia Street are two of the potential consequences of delaying repairs to a major sewer line in downtown New Westminster.
In March 2021, council begrudgingly approved a staff recommendation to support Metro Vancouver’s plan to undertake the essential work, or Phase 1 repairs, in 2021. Council also approved motions requiring Metro Vancouver to maintain pedestrian, cyclist and delivery access to downtown businesses at all times.
“A traffic management plan was developed in collaboration with the City of New Westminster to mitigate impacts on vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians near the project area,” Meldrum said. “A major focus is on maximizing available parking space along the project corridor at all times.”
Meldrum said Metro Vancouver has provided up-to-date project information to area residents and businesses through regular newsletters, emails and webpage updates and assigned a community liaison officer to liaise with the public, to listen to concerns and to answer questions throughout construction.
“We thank area residents and businesses for their ongoing patience and cooperation as we deliver this complex and challenging project,” he said.
Eugene Wat, the city’s manager of infrastructure planning, said the city continues to work with Metro Vancouver to ensure that its contractor is complying with city bylaws. He said the city has received complaints from the public and from businesses, and redirected them to the project team at Metro Vancouver.
“The majority of the complaints are related to traffic, pedestrian access and parking issues,” he said. “The city communication staff has been in regular dialogue with the Metro Vancouver project team as well as the business community.”
Since the onset of the project, signage has been posted along Columbia Street reminding people that businesses are open.
“All construction is challenging, but downtown businesses are working hard to provide a safe and pleasant experience for all,” said Kendra Johnston, executive director of the Downtown New West BIA. “We strongly encourage everyone to look past the inconveniences of construction and make an effort to support local.”