BC to invest $3 billion in bridges, highways
Largest infrastructure project in generation aims to prepare for 900,000 new residents
By PETER KENNEDY
Wednesday, February 1, 2006 Page S1
The Globe and Mail
With a report from Rod Mickleburgh
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia will try to build its way out of a
gridlock problem in Vancouver's Lower Mainland region by launching a $3-billion plan to improve bridge and highway infrastructure during the next seven years.
The largest infrastructure project in a generation aims to prepare the province for the arrival of another 900,000 residents and for the impact of increasing trade links between North America and Asia.
But critics who doubt that it will work say it leaves provincial
taxpayers open to construction-cost overruns as well as to anger over the $2.50-a-head toll that the province might use to finance it.
"All we have to do is look at the experience of Ontario and other
jurisdictions with respect to privatizing and using public-private
partnerships for these transportation projects," said David Chudnovsky, transportation critic for the B.C. New Democratic Party.
He said Ontario has just lost a court case in which it tried to retain some control over the tolling process at Highway 407 north of Toronto.
There is no question that B.C. needs to address congestion in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Mr. Chudnovsky said.
In the past five years, the number of registered vehicles in the GVRD increased by 143,000, or 12.5 per cent, exceeding population growth.
As a result, commuters and truck drivers take as long as an hour to travel though major transportation arteries, including the 41-year-old Port Mann bridge linking Vancouver to the Fraser Valley.
"Our existing bridges and highways on the Lower Mainland are well beyond their designed capacities," B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said.
The province wants to double the capacity of the Port Mann bridge and expand sections of Highway 1 between Vancouver and the suburb of Langley at a cost of $1.5-billion.
It is also proposing a $1.2-billion plan to build bridge facilities and
perimeter roads alongside the Fraser River to improve traffic between Burnaby and provincial gateways, such as Delta port.
"This is part of a regional, Lower Mainland traffic solution and all of it works together," B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said.
Subject to public consultations, he said, $3-billion will be sufficient to carry out the project "exactly as we said it would be built."
Cost estimates include a $300-million contingency fund.
The province's share of infrastructure costs is expected to be around $490-million.
A senior B.C. transportation official said the project is important not only for local communities and British Columbia, but also for the Canadian economy. "The time for this is absolutely now,'' said Vancouver Port Authority chief executive officer Gordon Houston.
It will by funded in part by the $590-million Ottawa has pledged for its so-called Pacific Gateway project, which is designed to smooth the way for Canada's growing trade with Asia.
But others said the idea of trying to alleviate congestion by building more highway capacity is the wrong way to go.
Former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, now a Liberal senator,
criticized the twinning of the Port Mann bridge regularly during his time in office. Mr. Campbell and other city councillors argued that the project would funnel even more vehicles into Vancouver.
Newly elected mayor Sam Sullivan, however, took a more cautious approach yesterday. "I am keeping an open mind right now," he said. "There are a lot of issues that are very complex."
Provincial Green Party Leader Adriane Carr said the Gateway Project opens the gate wide open for more cars and trucks. "We only have to look at California to see that solving traffic congestion by increasing road capacity is like solving obesity by loosening your belt."
She said the decision to add two new vehicle lanes to the Alex Fraser Bridge, a year or two years after it opened is a good indication of what will happen on the Port Mann.
Mr. Falcon said, however, that space will be created for transit buses on the Port Mann bridge, and plans include $50-million for new cycling lanes.