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

Archive for October 8th, 2008

Financing fears grow over P3 projects

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Jeff Nagel

The world’s financial house of cards is tumbling down, but “Partnerships BC CEO Larry Blain said he is “pretty relaxed” “. So that’s alright then. There is no contract yet signed for the Highway #1/Port Mann twinning or the SFPR

Blain said the financial market upheaval may affect the P3 business moving forward.

He expects a continuing active market for smaller projects, but said that may not be the case for large ones on the scale of the Port Mann where many firms and banks must join forces.

“There’s some evidence around the world those types of projects are difficult to do,” he said.

The South Fraser Perimeter Road is one project that is still early in the procurement process, with bidders not yet identified.

The situation will stabilize at some point, Blain said, and at that time banks will be attracted to infrastructure projects that can count on B.C. taxpayers as long-term stable customers.

You know, at this stage it is not the banks and their future need for stable customers that is my greatest concern. The BC Liberals have decided to tie their fate to freeway expansions and road building – even though these two schemes alone will pretty much offset any benefit that might reasonably be attributed to the carbon tax. Though that effect is in fact very small, and is far overshadowed by the effect of a period of very high gas prices, the expectation of higher gas prices in future – oh and the little blip of a major world wide recession.

Because they are still committed to P3s there is actually no money freed up by the potential cancellation of both projects. And certainly there is not enough money to proceed with the transit projects that have been needed in the region for years and which the BC Liberals regard as a much lower priority. Or rather, that could be the case, but given the way the government has already started work on both road projects the reliance on private financing may well turn out to be as mythical as the promised environmental mitigation.  And we cannot know because all of this is wrapped up in commercial confidentiality. So we will not actually know how much we are on the hook for until it is far too late to do anything about it other than pay up.

UPDATE On October 9 the Sun ran a story on its front page headed “Local large-scale projects feel shock of global credit crisis” which pointed to funding problems experienced by some of the P3 partners of the Golden Ears Bridge

Written by Stephen Rees

October 8, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Gateway, privatisation

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“Tunnel needs replacement: expert”

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Richmond News

It almost beggars belief, but when Canwest is the organisation that is delivering the news, do not expect anything like objectivity. Once again the astroturf group “Get Moving BC” manages to get more column inches than any of the real citizen based, grass roots organisations opposed to freeways do. And for a proposal which is way beyond any stupidity that has so far been visited on this region. They trot out Patrick O’Connor as the author of the report – and claim he is an “expert” – but an expert in what?  According to their own web site “The report itself was put together by a volunteer, Patrick O’Connor”
– but I still cannot find out why he might be considered to be an “expert”.

So how does the calculation get made that an eight lane bridge is needed? The tunnel currently carries 21,864 vehicles daily – so in 24 hours it moves on its 4 lanes (each has 2,000 vph capacity) rather less than three times its hourly maximum capacity. Or in other words for most of the day outside the peaks it is quite adequate. The problem of the tunnel is that more than two lanes feed into it – just like the Port Mann Bridge. On the Richmond side long line ups form along Steveston Highway because the traffic from that road plus Number 5 Road is trying to squeeze itself onto the two lane overpass which is the controlling influence on the Highway 99 intersection. The queues regularly interfere with the Steveston Highway /No 5 Road intersection. Simply replacing that two lane overpass – needed since the Riverport development opened up – would do a lot to resolve that issue. When many lanes funnel down into one or two, you need storage capacity that does not block movement in other directions. That is what is wrong on the north side. On the south side the queues are long but simply tail back through the 99/17 intersection which continues to work.

But any bridge here would need to have enough clearance for ocean going vessels – so it would be at least as high as the Alex Fraser with similar long ramps on either side. That is a lot of ALR to give up, and an incredible blot on the landscape. Just looking at the Google map it looks like the north side ramp would not touch down until Francis at least.

I expect that the calculation made by this “expert” is simply to double what is there now. Though why the tunnel has to be removed as well is beyond me. A four lane bridge and a four lane tunnel would do the same thing and at half the cost. But the congestion relief would be short lived. There has never been anywhere that I can find that has successfully conquered traffic congestion by building more roads. Indeed in the same piece it is pointed out the two track Canada Line bridge will provide the same people moving capacity as a ten lane road bridge. Indeed this is the nearest thing to “balance” that is achieved – talking to Councillor Rob Howard, who is not an expert either, just a local politician who sat on a committee once and may have read some reports.

And of course what our expert at Get Moving BC does not say is where all this newly induced traffic is going to go. Obviously, the demand on local streets will be intolerable. But not to worry they are sure to come up with all sorts of proposals to build ever wider arterials. That’s the good thing about advocating road expansions. It never stops, because traffic always fills up the space available thus creating the “need” for more.

Peak oil? Impact of vehicle emissions on us or our climate? Promotion of yet more suburban sprawl across the ALR? Not a word.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

B.C. NDP demands probe of Penner’s role in silencing scientists

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Canadian Press via the CBC BC News

You may well recall that recently an old issue – the Genstar developments proposed in Mission – resurfaced with allegations that a BC Ministry of the Environment (actually known as the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Prtoection) official lost his job because he criticised this development. By the way Rafe Mair had a go at the same story in the Tyee this week.

I had the great pleasure of meeting the former official yesterday evening. Marvin Rosenau did indeed leave the Vancouver office of BCMWLAP but not, he says, because of Genstar. He was originally offered the oportunity to work at UBC with other scientists that he admired – he says it was not hard to accept the temporary move. His boss admitted that the move was needed because he had made himself “unpopular with Fraser Valley MLAs”. And one of those was Barry Penner who was then MLA for Chilliwack-Kent. Penner wrote a letter to the Deputy Minister of MWLAP. He stated that the provincial government supports the removal of gravel from the Fraser River. However, gravel is where fish spawn – and grow up. And fish habitat is a federal concern and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had not issued an approval.

I am increasingly concerned by regular reports from various local government representatives that two employees of your Ministry are suggesting it is BC government policy not to support the removal of gravel from the Fraser River. I understand this to be in direct conflict with government policy and will be hapy to supply you with more specific information if you would like me to.

Could you please confirm that the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection supports the responsible removal of gravel from the Fraser River? If the answer is yes, I think it would be worthwhile to remind your ministry’s employees of this policy as well.

The letter dated January 29, 2003 was also copied to the Chair of the FVRD, the Mayors of Kent and Chiliwack, the Minister of Sustainable Resources Management and two other local MLAs – John Les (Chilliwack Sumas) and John van Dongen (Abbotsford Clayburn)

Yesterday, the Fraser Valley Salmon Society and the Chilliwack Vedder River Cleanup Coalition had a meeting with Barry Penner in the Premier’s office at Canada Place. In attendance were Marvin Rosenau (as the biologist for the FVSS) and Otto Langer who used to work for DFO Habitat.

They pointed out that the Fraser River is the most fish-rich freshwater ecosystem in all of BC including 5 species at risk. They also said that the risk of flooding has been “manipulated to give the impression that flloding was imminent in order to give access to gravel”. Gravel is of course a highly desirable commodity because of its role in building and development, and the more local the source of the gravel to the development sites the lower the cost to the developers. (Transport is one of the biggest elements of the cost of getting gravel.) There are several companies and individuals with very strong ties to the BC Liberals – not just gravel companies but the builders and developers eager to get the gravel out. And recently that is exactly what they have been doing – at Big Bar and Popkum in  2006 and Spring Bar in 2008. In each case no compensation for damage to habitat was made as required by the Canada Fisheries Act. Failure to provide meaningful mitigation is not only against that act but also the Canadain Environmental Assessment Act and the BC Water Act – which clearly BC MWALP is supposed to implement.

Marvin is now teaching at BCIT. He seems to be happy that he has left MWALP but that does not mean he is happy with what is happening in the Fraser Valley. Recently I have taken to saying that my departure from Translink was not happy for me at the time, but as the disfunction of that body has worsened and my ability to get across to people what we are losing as a result of Translink’s  policies has increased. I must say that I am now much happier – and even state that my removal for  that agency I now regard as a badge of honour. I hope that Marvin will feel that way too.

In Orwell’s novel 1984, there were only four  Ministries: the Ministry of Plenty was concerned with rationing: the Ministry of Peace with waging war: the Ministry of Truth with propaganda. And of course the overarching Ministry of Love concerned with repression.  Our Ministries are similar. MWLAP does not protect air, water or land. It presides over their wholesale destruction – and the promotion of private sector profits. Development is now the main aim of this government – no matter what the impact on sensitive ecosystems or human health and well being. Our Environmental Assessment process cannot stop any project – it can only try to get a bit of mitigation promised. In the case of the Highway #1 expansion the mitigation proferred by the proponent were projects which had already been implemented as mitgation for earlioer expansions. In other words the government gave itself permission to proceed (it is propoent, judge and jury in its own case) despite there being inadeqaute mitigation measures for a much bigger project.

Scientists are not now popular with any right wing government. They keep on coming up with inconvenient truths. The greatest one is that we are part of the ecosystem. We cannot simply keep on taking resources – and dumping the stuff we no longer need – because the ecosystem cannot support our rates of consumption. The loss of habitat and of other species is not some trivial inconvenience, to be brushed under the carpet so that a few people can make a lot of money. It is threatening our very survival. And that is not debating hyberbole. It is the plain and simple truth.

It is also sad fact that the attention of the electorate has been taken up by the current financial crisis. The federal election would have been about climate change if it had been held last year. The provincial election next year can still be about the BC Liberals shameful track record in trashing this province while pretending to be green. The carbon tax has become a very useful tool for the NDP to beat up the Liberals – but that camapign does credit to neither side. The future of humanity on this planet is far too important to be relegated to this sort of side show.

But the issue of “policy” – a wrong headed, fatally flawed policy at that – overriding the advice of well qualified scientific experts, recruited and paid for their expertise and then treated as nuisances – is one that goes well beyond the gravel reach. It is a fundamental principle that professional civil servants do their best for whatever government is elected. They provide objective, well reasoned advice based on the best evidence available and they do not shade or spin that advice to meet the preference of ministers or local mayors. There are plenty of party hacks appointed under orders in council to do that. And an MLA – or a Minister – taking the time and effort to mount a direct attack on individuals working in the field and doing the job they are paid to do – is quite outside the proper conduct of goivernment business. It raises fundamental questions about the independence and quality of the public service. And Gordon Campbell needs to pull Barry Penner aside and warn him that he overstepped that line back in 2003. It may well be that he also has put himself in a position where he is now displaying the appearance of a conflict of interest – if indeed it can be shown that the wrecking of fish habitat by gravel removal without any mitigation  – was ignored becuase he favoured the removal of gravel against the best advice that was available.

The “Best Place on Earth”? Not if the BC Liberals are left in charge.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 8, 2008 at 10:46 am

Posted in Environment, politics

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