Business & Economy
January 23, 2018

South of the Fraser River & the Industrialization of Delta~Agricultural Land: Going, going, gone


There has been a lot of back and forth about industrial development in Delta.  There is the MLA for Delta South who is still double dipping as a member of Delta Council. He’s insisting he represents farm interests but in the same breath advocates single mindedly for an overbuilt multi billion dollar  ten lane bridge to replace the Massey tunnel. Such a bridge would further industrialize that part of the Fraser River and ensure adjoining lands are  permanently removed from any future agricultural consideration.  And then there’s Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of a Quebec pension fund  who have developed a whopping 1.2 million square foot mall with 6,000 parking spaces on what was the most arable Class 1 farmland in Canada, land that is controlled by the Tsawwassen First Nation.
It is refreshing to hear from someone who is not trying to facilitate the paving over of prime agricultural lands for industry with things like an $18 million dollar parking lot for port bound trucks and port expansion. As the Vancouver Sun’s Larry Pynn writes there are people who are very concerned about the loss of “prime” (the best in Canada) farmland in South Delta. As farmer Rod Swenson states ““Delta is just getting hacked and torn apart by everything — roads, industry and the First Nations treaty.”

The map above shows Brunswick Point north of Deltaport which has 250 hectares of potentially arable lands. Four families farm this area under provincial Crown leases that are due to expire. Mr. Swenson would like to see the lands designated in perpetuity for agriculture and wildlife. This area of Delta is on one of the big migratory flightways on the continent.
Without this designation, this land could be developed for industry through the Tsawwassen First Nation which has the first right of refusal.Even though this land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the First Nations do not need to abide by that designation should they control the land. The Tsawwassen First Nations have already extensively developed their lands for two large shopping malls, housing and industrial warehouses related to the port.
Here is where it gets sticky~how important is agricultural land? Will new farming techniques mean that this land can be more intensively used in the future? And should the Province be keeping this land as agricultural for future generations? The trail along the Brunswick Point dike is also a birdwatching area where the spring migration of hundreds of thousands of western sandpipers can be viewed. Is this a resource that should be protected? Or should the local industrial based economy take precedence?

 

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Lots of coverage in the past few days on the removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges, plus the implications for mobility pricing.  Here are my thoughts as reported in various media:
From the Vancouver Sun:

By removing tolls, more people may choose to drive

 
British Columbia’s new NDP government will scrap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on Sept. 1, but motorists should enjoy the free ride while it lasts.
That’s because a commission is investigating mobility pricing options for transportation, which could include bridge tolls and other road usage fees.
The NDP government is now championing the phrase “Toll Free B.C.” — and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena denied in an interview Friday that this slogan would be temporary given the work of the mobility commission. “What the mayors are looking at is mobility pricing, which is not tolling. It is looking at how people move,” she told Postmedia News.
But Gordon Price, an expert on all things urban, said the reality is that motorists will, of course, be paying for road infrastructure again under any mobility pricing system. A new system would likely look very different, though, and could be more equitable than merely taxing bridge users south of the Fraser Valley.
There are also other inequities in the local transportation system, Price noted, such as paying for ferries and transit. “Is a Compass Card really different from a TReO card?” asked Price, a former Vancouver city councillor and former director of the Simon Fraser University City Program.
The key will be to find a solution that doesn’t politically alienate drivers (a.k.a. voters), who have come to expect that roads are an essential service funded by governments. “We have been raised on the free road. It is called a ‘freeway’ for a reason,” Price quipped
 
 

From the CBC:

Does loss of Lower Mainland bridge toll revenue pave way for mobility pricing?

 
Gordon Price, a fellow with the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, says mobility pricing has evolved beyond tolls.
“Bridge tolls are very 20th century,” he said, adding that having tolls connected to a particular infrastructure piece is an outdated system.
“More and more we’re going to be thinking about transportation as a range of choices, and yes at this point you’ll individually pay for them [whether] it’s a bike share, car share, car rental, car use, taxis, transit,” he said.
He says governments could find ways to offer transportation services to commuters that would bring in tax revenue and cover maintenance costs as well.
“If I can buy a monthly service, that will give me all of these choices in one integrated package, very simple, seamless pricing, that’s very desirable.”
 
From News1130:

By removing tolls, more people may choose to drive

 

LOWER MAINLAND (NEWS 1130) – The province’s move to scrap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will change your commute. But it’s still unclear what it will mean for traffic flows and volumes in our region.

 
By removing the tolls, Gord Price with SFU’s City Program believes more people will choose to drive.
“If you build an urban region that’s designed for the car, you get more cars,” says Price. “If you build it around transit, Vancouver an example built around the electric streetcar back in the day, still functions pretty well with a more balanced system.”
So while in the short term congestion may drop at the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges, the increased overall traffic could create new choke points.
“The idea of having a free road just encourages more traffic,” says Price. “Eventually there is some kind of congestion point, whether it’s the kind of mass congestion that occurs at rush hour, or it moves the traffic further along to the next congestion point.”
Price also believes this move will lead to more people moving to the suburbs now that they won’t have to pay the toll.
 

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Here’s Andrew Weaver’s release on today’s announcement:
Weaver statement on government’s decision to remove bridge tolls
VICTORIA, BC – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, issued the following statement today in response to the government’s removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges.
“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” said Weaver.
“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs.
“Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand. Transport demand management reduces pollution and emissions, alleviates congestion and helps pay for costly infrastructure. That’s why, at the negotiating table when preparing our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we ensured that a commitment was included to work with the Mayors’ Council consultation process to find a more fair and equitable way of funding transit for the long-term. We look forward to that commitment being met so that British Columbians can have an evidence-based, truly fair approach to this file.”
 
As one commentator noted, the NDP may well have won the election as a consequence of their promise to remove tolls on the Port Mann.  It may have secured the needed ridings, particularly South of the Fraser.
But Weaver’s points are good – and deserving of a major policy debate in the House, particularly with respect to the implications for future decisions on road pricing.

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“The B.C. government is getting rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges starting Sept. 1, Premier John Horgan has announced.”
The Premier and assorted ministers articulated the reasons they’re getting rid of tolls – effectively on all existing and new road-and-bridge projects:

  • Reduce costs for drivers
  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce impediments to movement across the region

You can do one or two of those goals; you can’t, over time, do them all.  Less visible cost per trip, the more incentive to drive.  The more incentive to drive, the greater the likelihood of congestion.  And hence more impediment to movement – unless, of course, the belief is that we’ll build and widen more bridges and roads, which will all be ‘free’, thus continuing the fruitless cycle.
Three other impacts:

  • This is the end of the public-private partnership for funding infrastructure that requires a cash flow generated by the infrastructure funded.  (In other words, a perpetual money-machine, where debt to build infrastructure created more cash flow to generate more debt to build more infrastructure.)
  • Good luck to the ‘Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’ set up by the Mayors’ Council to explore the feasibility of road pricing.  The NDP decision today reinforces the notion that no senior government will accept a proposal that would require them to spend political capital to impose a visible charge on road users.
  • Though the government didn’t say so, I’m sure one of their goals would be to reduce sprawl in the Lower Mainland.  But as of today, that goal not only got so much harder, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in housing costs east of the Port Mann.
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Vancouver Sun Image
From CBC via Price Tags Editor Ken Ohrn is the notification that “four of the five members of the Transportation Investment Corporation board, which oversees B.C.’s Port Mann Bridge, have been removed by the provincial government.” 
That’s right- “In an Order In Council formally approved on Friday, chair Daniel Doyle and directors Anne Stewart, Clifford Neufeld and former finance minister Colin Hansen had their appointments rescinded.” One person remains, Irene Kerr who is the CEO of TI Corp and will be on the board until the end of 2018. TI Corp is the governmental creation that managed the construction of the bridge and the subsequent tolling on this and the Golden Ears Bridge.

While the Port Mann is not making money as projected from tolls, it is still projected to pay for itself . The 2017 B.C. budget suggested that losses of  $88 million dollars in 2017 and $90 million dollars in 2018 are expected. The TI Corp was also to provide “support” for the implementation of the ‘George Massey Tunnel Replacement  Project-when will he NDP government be announcing what they are doing with that vast overbuilt  project?
Meanwhile south of the Fraser  City of Richmond Councillor Carol Day supports the transit idea of the  Mayor of Delta who was pleading for a ten lane bridge, and for a rapid transit connection to get that bridge. Councillor Day calls the refusal of the Mayors’ Council to consider rapid transit to Delta  the “special sort of short sightedness that is iconic of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. This creates a piecemeal approach to infrastructure that approves individual projects in isolation of one another without sufficient consideration of the future.”
Councillor Day further notes: “Mayor Jackson is absolutely right in saying that we have to think about building capacity for 75 years into the future rather than merely extending existing transit lines. We will be able to plan out a much more efficient transit network if all current and potential projects support each other and a unified vision.” 
It is going to be an interesting time as the new Provincial government reviews and unravels the truths and myths about the Massey Tunnel crossing, and evaluates what will work  best for the Fraser River crossing in Delta-where, how, and why.
 

Richmond News Image
 
 

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