Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

South Fraser Perimeter Road

with 18 comments

The Gateway proposed by the province has a number of projects. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is actually in the Regional Growth Strategy as a “New or Upgraded Goods Movement Connection”. For ease of identification I have highlighted the route in yellow on the map below, which is taken from the LRSP.

LRSP Regional Road and Highway System

The route follows the river from Highway 99 at Deas Tunnel around Burns Bog following the existing River Road through Annieville and into North Surrey. There Surrey has already built a new road from near the entrance to Surrey Fraser Docks alongside the BNSF railway to connect to Scott Road and thus the Patullo Bridge. Thereafter the route follows the CN main line around the Port Mann switching yard.

For a direct connection between Deltaport and Highway #1 most trucks follow a straighter, more southerly route (Highway #10), and indeed that is the signposted truck route. The SFPR is more of a distributor to all the various trucking, port and distribution facilities along the river. Since this line has been on the map since the early 90’s it is not hard for land speculators to pick up sites which are likely to be required for this road. Many would be cheap as they are either agricultural, or sites which are so degraded as to require significant remedial works for any other kind of development.

The communities along the route are not happy. Damien Gillis has produced a new video which documents the impact on North Delta.

Opposition is understandable from those immediately impacted, and is mostly about the lack of openness in a process to determine exactly which pieces of land will be expropriated, and who will get some kind of environmental protection such as sound fences and so on. More disturbing though is the lack of discussion on alternate routes, including one which could save a lot of disruption. Other groups are fundamentally opposed to the idea of yet more roads in the region, and take the view that the Gateway is a strategy which is itself seriously out of date and is only supported by some business interests.

It is hard to see how any road could be just used for goods movement. Inevitably in a congested urban region widening or “improving” existing roads, and building new links will generate more car traffic. There are a lot of trucks on River Road now and I am sure that the residents of Annieville and Sunbury would like to see them go elsewhere, as the road is not only narrow, it is steep and winding, producing a very unpleasant atmosphere in the village of noise and diesel exhaust. As with Eagleridge Bluffs a tunnel would have been preferred by the local community.

As I have written on this blog before, the problem starts with the “Ministry of Highways” – it has had all these plans to build roads sitting in its map chests and just wants to build as many of them as possible. There is never a careful consideration of how best to achieve the project’s aims and objectives, since inevitably that would call into question the lack of examination of alternatives, such as better traffic management, which in the case of every road scheme I have ever looked at professionally is always cheaper and more cost effective than new build. But in the case of the Gateway what is more worrying is that a small group of directly interested parties have first created and then imposed a growth strategy for the region that is not concerned with liveability but solely with moving more freight.

And in case there is some misunderstanding of what constitutes a “special interest” it is those who stand to benefit financially from a project. The Gateway clearly benefits the Ports and Airports. And those are no longer community facilities – they are commercial operations controlled by the industry and their close allies. The other people who clearly benefit are those who have knowledge of where the province is going to be buying up land. In some cases the province will expropriate existing occupiers. This is common (and in the US is known as “eminent domain”) but is based on an objective estimate of fair market value. What is of greater concern is when the province starts buying up land ahead of projects still awaiting formal approval and pays much more than current value, and the people who own that land seem to have acquired it fairly recently and do not appear to have any interest in developing or using the land in question.

Both these groups are pushing the Gateway at the federal and provincial level, and huge sums of taxpayers money are being spent. The politicians at both levels keep trumpeting the economic advantages of Vancouver getting a bigger share of the trade between North America and the Asian Pacific Rim. But what is missing is any evaluation of alternative economic strategies – for example the greater employment growth potential and lower cost of increasing import replacement – or the environmental cost to the ecosystem and the local community of huge increases in truck, ship, aircraft and railway movements, all of which produce both common air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions in large quantities. Being concerned about such issues does not constitute a “special interest” since it is a common interest for society as whole. That is the difference between growing chorus of many groups who are seeking to question the Gateway, and those who seek to denigrate and silence them. Moreover, it is easy to label community groups as NIMBYs, but that simply avoids dealing with their very proper questions, which are not being answered.

The environmental assessment process is limited. It only looks at local, immediate impacts and can be satisfied by proposing mitigation measures. There is no process to determine if these measures are actually put in place, or if they are as effective as the proponent claims. But there is no environmental assessment of government policies or programmes. The government just does not do it, and does not pay any attention to those who do. The consequences are all around us. And it is noticeable that was was once the view of a small minority, is now becoming much more widely accepted – including by some very succesful businesses – by those who see that “business as usual” is no longer a viable long term option.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2007 at 12:59 pm

18 Responses

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  1. I agree that a special interest is those who benefit financially. That is true of both proponents and opponents of a project or measure. One may, for example, be opposed to a project if one fears it might lead to decreases in the price of one’s real estate holdings. In the case of a property whose value may be depreciated because it will be directly affected by disamenities such as noise or ugly construction nearby, one can well understand why the owner would be opposed to such a project. But what about people who own real estate far removed from the project and who simply fear that a better overall transportation system will lead to a more competitive real estate market and therefore a lower price for their property which has to this point enjoyed a locational price premium. Is that fair minded or rational opposition?

    Budd Campbell

    May 30, 2007 at 1:45 pm

  2. I know of no-one, except you, who thinks that real estate prices will fall as a result of road building.

    Stephen Rees

    May 30, 2007 at 3:45 pm

  3. If these highway systems are going to have a major impact on land use, how can they do so without having an impact on land prices?

    Budd Campbell

    May 31, 2007 at 7:29 am

  4. I didn’t say it wouldn’t have an impact, I said that the general expectation is that they will rise.

    The conventional wisdom is that since additional transportation facilities increase accessibility, land in the vicinity of a new or improved facilities becomes more desirable. Now, the extent to which this reduces demand for land elsewhere has not, to my knowledge, been considered a major issue. And to the extent that investment stimulates demand, plus whatever local multiplier effect there might be, GDP in general, and land prices as a result, will probably rise. Because there is a finite amount of developable land and more money in the local economy. And, of course, the effect is not confined to road building.

    Stephen Rees

    May 31, 2007 at 8:03 am

  5. “Now, the extent to which this reduces demand for land elsewhere has not, to my knowledge, been considered a major issue. And to the extent that investment stimulates demand, plus whatever local multiplier effect there might be, GDP in general, and land prices as a result, will probably rise.”

    IOWs, the income effect will outweigh and even overwhelm any subsitution effect. I suppose that’s a possibility in the long run, but if these highway or transit improvements do not at least alter RELATIVE prices in the short to medium term, then how are they going to alter the pattern of land development? Somebody’s property has to experience at least a relative decline, I would think. And with the exhorbidant prices being charged for perfectly routine residential properties there’s plenty of potential for a correction to become the opening step in bursting a bubble that’s been bulging at the seams for the last two or three decades.

    A new article in the Georgia Straight adds something to the discussion around highways and lower density residential developments in fringe areas. But it’s Hwy 99 that’s at issue here, not Hwy 1. Isn’t it just totally amazing how there’s been absolutely no speeches whatsoever from David Suzuki and his Foundation about the Hwy 99 expansion contributing to urban sprawl in Squamish or increased outputs of Greenhouse gases?

    Budd Campbell

    May 31, 2007 at 11:12 am

  6. I had not yet got around to the Strait, so thanks for that link.
    I cannot speak for the David Suzuki Foundation. Why don’t you ask them?
    I don’t know how anyone could measure the price rise that a property might have seen had not some other development occurred elsewhere. And you are not alone in expecting the property bubble to burst. As someone who lost all his equity in the Toronto crash of 1989 I am all too well aware of the risks of property investment. But it still beats the hell out of renting.

    Stephen Rees

    May 31, 2007 at 11:36 am

  7. My understanding is that the South Fraser Perimeter Road serves double duty connecting both the Fraser port and Dealtport with the Trans-Canada Highway – basically making the Highway 10 freeway shown on the LRSP map unnecessary. In a sense, that eliminates a planned freeway through a more built-up area that would have caused a lot more disruption.

    The alternative south of Burns Bog seems reasonable – then connecting to the Annacis Highway – but you still have the segment from the Alex Fraser Bridge to the Trans-Canada Highway (which is the other objectionable segment).

    The other problem with running the highway south of Burns Bog that I can see would be increased pressure to industrialize existing agriultural lands in the Boundary Bay area. I think there’s a lot more agricultural land south of Burns Bog than there is north of it (seen from Hwy 99). At least on the north side of Burns Bog on River Road, existng sites there are already industrially zoned and somewhat compatible with a freight-hauling highway route.

    For the route north of Burns Bog, water table issues could be addressed if the highway is built on a viaduct on piers over sensitive bog areas – though that would probably be expensive. That would allow the flow of water necessary for the bog.

    WRT tunnels – as with the Sea-to-Sky Highway project – the main objection to placing a pincipal freight route through a tunnel is dealing with explosive and hazardous goods movement – not good planning for a principal freight route, since a non-tunnel truck route alternative would still be required.
    i.e. see the prohibitions under the TUNNEL TRANSPORTATION OF DANGEROUS COMMODITIES REGULATION under the Transportation Act.
    Of ourse it’s not politically correct to point this out, since residents probably wouldn’t appreciate hazardous goods passing through their vicinity, either.


    May 31, 2007 at 5:29 pm

  8. Thanks Ron, as usual, useful information. But how much of the truck traffic is dangerous goods? I suspect very little. Most of the stuff that we import from the Pacific Rim is stuff like electronics, clothing and shoes.

    Stephen Rees

    May 31, 2007 at 5:33 pm

  9. Probably not much in containerized cargo – but I expect the route will also be used for ferry traffic too – but I think that there are restrictions on hazardous goods on ferries too.

    Click to access DG_Commercial.pdf


    May 31, 2007 at 6:01 pm

  10. Of interest – here’s a SkyscraperCity thread on a proposed highway over a sensitive peat bog. Note the rendering showing the highway on piers.


    May 31, 2007 at 6:11 pm

  11. ron

    May 31, 2007 at 6:12 pm

  12. Ron
    As far as I am aware, dangerous cargo is not moved on BC Ferries. Between here and the Island it moves on the Seaspan truck/rail ferries.
    When the ferry to Bowen Island needs to carry dangerous cargo, passengers may not board. There is (or was) a special designated sailing for dangerous cargo once a week. I imagine something similar is arranged for the Gulf Islands, or maybe they just use barges.

    Stephen Rees

    May 31, 2007 at 7:10 pm

  13. I was thinking there was a special sailing for dangeroud cargo – but I didn’t see any indication of that on the BC Ferries website.

    Thanks for reminding me about the Seaspan truck ferry terminal @ Tilbury – that’s on the SFPR route.


    June 1, 2007 at 11:59 am

  14. In follow-up – article from the Surrey Now – the SFPR will spur redevelopment of the construction & demolition landfill sites on River Road:


    New hope for waste-choked industrial land

    Maureen Gulyas
    Now Contributor

    Delta is getting into the development business to save its industrial lands.

    There are more than a dozen private demolition landfills on River Road that are piled so high with waste – up to 15 metres (49 feet) in some cases – they are nearly impossible to develop into industrial land.

    “What we have there presently is not sustainable,” said Mayor Lois Jackson.

    Delta council approved a plan last week to save the lands through a unique partnership that involves the municipality, the province and private property owners.

    An expert in landfill closures, Sperling Hansen Associates, believes it can regrade the land so it can be developed into clean, industrial property that will one day generate taxes for the municipality and be safe for the environment.

    In the late 1980s, the province permitted a number of property owners to collect construction waste, allowing land along River Road to be filled. Delta opposed the landfills, but was powerless to stop them from operating.

    In 1999, one of the landfills – an eight-hectare (21-acre) site – erupted in fire and burned for several months. Delta eventually inherited the property through tax default.

    Not only did the municipality get the land, but all the environmental and vexing development problems that came with it, which got those over at municipal hall thinking.

    The Ministry of Environment requires a closure plan that property owners find onerous and expensive to implement; however, those same owners can’t develop their land until a plan is put into place.

    Three years ago, Jackson and the province began to develop a plan to deal with the sites, but they needed cooperation from the property owners. Now Delta is trying to convince them to pool their land so the closure plans aren’t so onerous.

    That way Delta can be assured environmental and development concerns are properly addressed, and that developers will get the most from their properties.

    Construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road made the discussions more compelling for the property owners. The proposed route travels through the back portion of most of the landfills on River Road.

    Property owners have had four meetings with the province and Delta since the beginning of the year. Delta has managed to get some general agreement on future planning.

    “It’s quite a unique approach with the government in the lead,” Jackson said. “We’re working together, but we’re not there yet. The alternative is basically what we have there now and that’s just not acceptable.”

    published on 06/19/2007


    June 21, 2007 at 3:05 pm

  15. Yes I read that in the Delta Optimist over the weekend. The way the Province overrules municipalities never ceases to amaze me. As for the SFPR I am ambivalent. I do not think expansion of the port is necessary or well advised but seemingly it is going to happen anyway. I know if I lived in Annieville I would hate all those trucks griding up the hill. But the process the province has followed is fundamentally flawed.

    Unlike the widening of Highway #1, the SFPR is part of the regional growth strategy, so it seems to me the whole issue devolves to the route – and how much car traffic gets generated by it. And the way traffic forecasting is done here (emme/2) gives me no feeling of confidence at all.

    Stephen Rees

    June 21, 2007 at 6:05 pm

  16. The South Fraser Perimeter Road will destroy fish habitat, farmland, endangered mammals and plants, archaeological sites, air quality and the quality of life in Delta and Surrey. The B.C. and federal governments have paid lip-service to environmental assessment. Why are they bending our laws. disregarding public concerns and ignoring government scientists who have warned that the South Fraser Perimeter Road will have substantial, irrreversible impacts on associated ecosystem values? The answer is to “follow the money”.

    Plans for the South Fraser Perimeter Road are all about land development and industrialization of the south arm of the Fraser River.

    The industrial land along the edge of Burns Bog in the Tilbury area of Delta is extensive. Unfortunately, greed became the guiding principle for the B.C. Government and the road is planned on unprotected lands of Burns Bog.

    In reference to the area east of Highway 91, the following information is from the BC Environmental Assessment Office – Project Information Centre – South Fraser Perimeter Road.

    In the Project Justification Report, there is a summary of a study that was done on the SFPR-Real Estate Benefits.

    “Colliers carried out a two phase study with reports provided in November 1999 and January 2000. Phase I forecast the type, magnitude and rate of land development without and with SFPR. Key findings and conclusions were:

    SFPR catchment area of South Westminster, Bridgeview, Port Mann and Fraser Heights has approximately 900 acres of vacant industrial land of which 50% is serviced.

    With SFPR, it is forecast that approximately 200 acres would be developed for industrial purposes by 2021. With SFPR all 900 acres would be developed by 2021.

    The incremental 700 acres of industrial development can be attributed to enhanced accessibility due to SFPR. Colliers conclude that this increase in demand would be reallocation from within Greater Vancouver.”

    Thus taxpayers dollars will be used to industrialize the south arm of the Fraser and move industry from Vancouver thereby freeing industrial land for residential and commercial development. It’s all about trashing farmland, Burns Bog and the Fraser River escarpment for land development. They want to pave it, not save it.

    Susan Jones

    September 25, 2008 at 11:16 pm

  17. Susan, I have just written about this on my blog here:


    December 14, 2008 at 1:25 am

  18. One of the posts on this blog reads that Sperling Hansen Associates believes it can regrade some industrial zoned land, formerly landfill sites, so that it can be developed into clean, industrial projects to one day generate taxes for Delta.
    One wonders if this was verbal on the part of the company, or if they ever published a study or report on this proposed solution. Does anyone know?


    October 24, 2009 at 11:22 am

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