November 1, 2016

Do We Need a Sunshine Coast Fixed Link? – 3

Our ‘Sunshine Coast correspondent,’ John Whistler, continues his series on the massive road-and-bridge project proposed by the Province.
Do We Need a Sunshine Coast Fixed Link – 3
The BC Government public comment background material includes a Multiple Account Evaluation (MAE) which reviews a number of benefits and impacts associated with the various proposed fixed links to the Sunshine Coast.
The MAE includes high level rankings as to what is better or worse.  Because the status quo option to retain the existing ferry services is not included, readers need to manage this comparison on their own
Customer Service

The rankings for Travel Time Reliability are debateable. While continuous 24-hour access would be much better, the fixed-link road options are not offering a time savings (the bridge links would). All fixed-link options would be subject to service interruption or delay risks because of maintenance, weather, landslides and crashes, just as BC Ferries have service risks because of weather, mechanical issues and overloads.
(Are public transit and BC Ferries held to a higher standard than roads in the case of service interruptions or delays? We see this when a crash that closes the Lions Gate bridge barely rates mention in the news and a Skytrain interruption is front-page news.)
The rankings for Accessibility to Emergency Services are also curious. Any of the fixed-link options would require deploying new police and medical emergency services over 25, 50 or 200 km of new roads in regions that have no development at this time. The existing BC Ferry services include comprehensive emergency contingency plans and are closer to off-site emergency services.
The Sunshine Coast already has emergency hospital medical services in Powell River and Sechelt.  Any associated emergency medical transports would likely continue by helicopter, even with any of the road-link options. Indeed, some residents are concerned that a fixed link would facilitate closing one or both existing emergency services and consolidating them in North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital.  Or is that one of the reasons for the better ranking?
The Emergency Evacuation criteria is interesting. One has to wonder what type of emergency would require a wholesale evacuation, other than a Fort McMurray type of wild fire. In this scenario the fixed link might be cut off or subject to gridlock because of congestion. The most resilient emergency evacuation method, covering many different evacuation scenarios, would be by ocean, as numerous docks already exist throughout the Sunshine Coast.
It would be interesting to quantify in more detail the safety implications and costs to society. Before the upgrade for the 2010 Olympics, HWY 99 was known as the “highway of death”. Since the upgrade, traffic collisions are now reduced to around 100 a year, with two fatalities. Though not perfect, BC Ferries have a much better safety record.
Economic Development

It sounds reasonable that property values would increase and construction would be encouraged by a fixed link. This might require an order-of-magnitude difference, such as doubling, to justify the costs of a fixed link. This benefit is a double-edged sword. Although housing costs on the Sunshine Coast are low by Vancouver standards, it is one of the attractive features for new residents, and affordability is already a significant issue and barrier for the existing population.
One existing economic development opportunity that would not need a fixed link is the need for care for the significant and growing seniors population.

The Socio-Community criteria are a mixed bag of factors that might subjectively be called “liveability”. Many existing residents like the slower paced “island lifestyle” as a result of the existing BC Ferries service.
Income equity is missing from this section. Would people of all incomes benefit from a fixed link or would this disproportionately benefit higher incomes or existing property owners?
Increased traffic volumes from a fixed link would be expected and explains the worse rankings to Effects on Population Supporting Infrastructure. This would impact roads on the Sunshine Coast, Metro Vancouver and Hwy 99, increasing pressure for additional road expansions. At a minimum, local-road maintenance costs would increase resulting in increased taxes or reductions in other local services.

Not surprisingly, the existing status-quo ferry service appears to be the favoured option from the environmental perspective. Indeed, using cost as a rough proxy,

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I don’t think it’s too much to say that this is an obscenity:


Sunshine Coast Connector options


Think about it:

(1) Two years ago, the Premier simply announced a multi-billion-dollar Massey Crossing, with no relationship to any regional plan, that would put immense development pressure on the ALR and land below sea level.

(2) She imposed a doomed plebiscite on the region for transit funding, and took no responsibility for the outcome.

(3) Conventional wisdom assumes that there will be no provincial money for a Broadway subway, forcing the City to think about indebting itself if it’s to proceed.

(4) Last week, an out-of-the blue announcement: another multi-billion proposal for highways and bridges to serve what would be a tiny fraction of the regional population.

Staggering amounts of money for highways and bridges; none for transit.  Yet hardly a raised eyebrow.

What explains the political calculation that produces such disproportionate decision-making?  Part of the answer can be found at the end of the just-released report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Considerations for the Legislative Assembly


The May 2014 amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act prohibit a reduction in the number of electoral districts in the North, Cariboo-Thompson and Columbia-Kootenay regions. These regions contain electoral districts whose populations generally are much smaller than the provincial average, and furthermore, contain areas of the province whose population is growing more slowly than the provincial average.
Effectively freezing the number of electoral districts in regions with slower or negative growth has led to more electoral districts further from the provincial average in the rest of the province; this effect is most prominent in areas of rapid growth. …
Whereas the 1999 Commission proposals6 provided for 60% of the electoral districts to be within +/-10% of the provincial average, this has decreased to only 46% of our proposals. Consequently, more than half of our proposed electoral districts are more than +/-10% of the provincial average and 10 are greater than 25% below average (two are more than 50%). As more electoral districts stray toward the outer limits of the permissible range dictated by the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act and the Supreme Court, the principle of representation by population is weakened(see Appendix E for more details). …

To repeat: “representation by population is weakened.”
That’s the idea: the more populous and faster-growing parts of the province have ever-weaker electoral representation.  Those parts less likely to support the party in power can be more effectively ignored, even as their tax dollars can be used to build infrastructure elsewhere in the province.
Which is exactly what’s happening.

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Now that Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has floated the SCC balloon, the pellet shots are being fired.
From Business in Vancouver:

…  a new highway to a new community would only mean more traffic for the North Shore’s already choked bottlenecks, according to West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith.
“I think the whole thing is completely ridiculous. I don’t know why they would float this,” Smith said.
“Obviously, with the development that would occur on the Sunshine Coast and all the day-trippers that go up there – we already have a traffic crisis on the North Shore. How are those people going to get on and off the North Shore?”
Smith said any such fixed link to the coast should come with a third crossing to Vancouver, though he acknowledged there’s little chance of that happening.
“The North Shore is the only part of the entire Metro region that hasn’t had additional road capacity – to and from – added in the last 60 years. Every other area – pick an area, and you have new bridges and tunnels and everything else and nothing for the North Shore.”
Holly Kemp, president of the Horseshoe Bay Business Association, questioned the costs of such a project.
It’s hundreds of millions if it’s not a $1-billion-plus.” Kemp said. “It seems it’s a really good diversion away from their existing transportation system, which is in fact the ferries. If they don’t have $200 million to help out the ferry system with the Horseshoe Bay terminal, then where are they going to come up with the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars it’s going to cost to do something like this?”
A proposed fixed link to the Sunshine Coast is something that’s been talked about for generations, according to West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, and a number of groups have been asking for a fresh look at the issue …
“Really, we want to inform the discussion with some factual information and see if there are opportunities that are worth investigating further,” he said.

Some questions:
(1)  What’s the rough estimate for the cost of an SCC: hundreds of millions, billions?  Bob Ransford thinks a minimum of $5 billion.
(2) Why is this even being floated, given other priorities in the region?  The population of the Sunshine Coast is less than that of the West End.  The Broadway rapid transit line is estimated to have an opening day ridership of several hundred thousand.  Why is the Province even talking about roads and bridges across fjords and through the Coast Mountains, while the job generator of the province will, presumably, have to go through another referendum before transit expansion goes ahead?
(3) Are there any energy-related projects tied to this?  LNG anyone?
(4) If Jordan Study, the local MLA, can support a multi-million study to “see if there are opportunities that are worth investigating,” where are Vancouver’s MLAs? Has anyone heard anything from any of them since the referendum?
(5) And, oh yeah, do we get to vote on the SCC?


UPDATE: Can’t forget to note that, as predicted, voices are being heard (notably the Mayor of West Vancouver) for expansion of the freeway network into Vancouver.  The Third Crossing lives!

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For years I have used a slide in my presentations that illustrate the various highway and bridge projects that are reshaping the Metro Vancouver area – a combination of MOTI Gateway and TransLink projects that together constitute a kind of asphalt noose.  Yes, that’s a perspective from Vancouver, as most of these projects either end at the boundaries of the city or provide freeway-scale routes around it. . I thought I had pretty much included everything built or committed.  But now, once again, another project has to be added: the Sunshine Coast Connector.  Some would say it’s speculative too – but I doubt it would even be announced for study unless there was some significant momentum behind it.  That’s how Motordom works: get a project on the map and create a certain inevitability.  . So here’s the latest version. . Click to enlarge. . Given the billions spent or planned for highway projects that will, in the absence of transit expansion, generate millions of more trips (and hence congestion), it’s only a matter of time before the noose will tighten – and there will be serious proposals for road expansions, expressways, tunnels and bridges though Vancouver to join them all up. Read more »

Bob Ransford:  “YIKES” is my initial response. This looks like sprawl unlimited. I have no problem with managed growth in small communities like Gibsons, Sechelt and Powell River, respecting their ecological/geographical constraints.
Unleashing the Lower Mainland’s motordom on these coastal communities with highways and bridges connecting them to our metropolitan area will jeopardize everything that makes these communities different and special and will endanger the wilderness ecosystems that are proximate to them. Whenever a provincial highway passes through a town, the mandate of that infrastructure is simply to move whatever volume is on that highway as quickly and as directly through that town as possible.
More on his Facebook page here.


Ian Robertson: The province has proposed a bridge to the Sunshine Coast … conveniently making Woodfiber LNG more accessible without having to cross Squamish Nation lands across the river from Squamish.

Were it to be part of a regional transportation/transit plan it might seem like a great idea, but it seems like another form of ‘bridge to nowhere’ announced suspiciously close to an election.

Apparently it is a good idea for everyone surrounding Vancouver to get a free bridge, while Vancouver has to buy its own transit.
More here from the CBC.

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Ha, ha.  Of course not.



Sure it’s another multi-billion piece of transportation infrastructure that will involve tolls largely paid for by Metro Vancouverites and those on the Sunshine Coast (who should get ready for a speculative boom; it’s what we’re good at.)

But you won’t get a vote on this baby, even though it’s not in any regional plan and will have profound effects on land use and development.

Feeding Motordom is not something you put up to a vote.  It’s just something that’s announced.

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