Stephen Rees's blog

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

Details needed, please, before B.C. commits tax dollars to finance the Port Mann project

with 6 comments

Vancouver Sun Editorial

It is a surprise to find the Aspers climbing aboard this bandwagon. There are indeed serious questions that need to be answered about the Highway #1 expansion Port Mann twinning project (H1PM2). But that is nothing new – and indeed has been cited as the reason for not covering the issue up until – well a few days ago.

It is interesting to notice how much time has elapsed since Kevin Falcon’s announcement and the Sun’s response. This suggests to me that it had to be referred upstairs and was not something that came out easily. The language is carefully measured. Not actually questioning the project itself head on but

…why a project that has always been promoted as such a sure winner was unable to secure the private financing it needs to proceed.

The global financial crisis has pinched off funding for a number of projects. But money is still available at historically low rates to credit-worthy borrowers.

So that directs attention away from the fundamental misconception – that expanding freeways will help relieve traffic congestion – and concentrating on the credit worthiness of the consortium. Yes, there are doubts about MacQuarie, but the doubts about H1PM2 are much more important than that.

And the editorial continues in the same vein. It is all about risk and rewards and potential pit falls. And it is written as though the collapse of the False Creek Village was the most significant event that should  change our views of such projects. Yes the deal the City signed in secret was a bad one – and it looks as though at least the CFO of the City told them that at the time. But the H1PM2 project has been wrong headed from the very start (and there is still no final agreement). Every process examining it was skewed to produce a favourable result.

Yes the taxpayers of BC risk getting stuck with a very expensive project again. But no matter who builds it, or how it is paid for, it will be a disaster for sustainability, liveability and will not achieve any improvement in mobility – except for a brief honeymoon period shortly after it opens. Just like the Alex Fraser Bridge brought much more traffic to New Westminster and Richmond a few short months after its opening. It will also ensure that there are no funds for much needed transit expansion and that the Faser Valley will continue to see auto-oriented sprawl expand.

If the Sun wants answers to questions about financial risk to taxpayers, why is it ignoring every other risk associated with this project? Why is the Sun unconcerned about being sold a project on the basis of traffic forecasts that ignore induced travel? How can we allow the province a free pass on an EA which simply ignored any impact it did not care to consider – and offered as mitigation schemes that are already in place for other projects? Why does the pocket book impact matter so much and every other impact matter not all?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Gateway

6 Responses

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  1. The public have been sold a bill of goods on P-3’s and it seems that Mr. business man Gordon Campbell and his pit bull, Kevin Falcon did not have a clue on the ‘hows and whys’ of a P-3.

    The P-3 is, theory, a way to protect the taxpayer from risk, but not just financial risk but risk form bad planning. With a P-3 one is supposed to get the best project done at a the cheapest price.

    With RAV this did not happen because Campbell and TransLink wanted a subway period. All comments on LRT, especially operating on the Arbutus Corridor were not allowed. Because of this silliness the RAV/Canada Line P-3 failed because cheaper transit alternatives and maybe even better transit alternatives were ignored. The international banks and SERCo. baled on the project and province, itself, became the banker. As now the taxpayer assumed all risk, the P-3 failed again.

    The same is true with the Port Mann, there is no independent review of the project; no independent planning, rather it is “you will build this regardless of the cost.” Again the province assumes the role of banker and the taxpayer assumes all risk.

    With real P-3’s, politicians and bureaucrats may get unpleasant answers on their planning and their projects; answers that may contain -“not viable”, or “poorly planned.”

    Why would any outfit get involved with the Port Mann Bridge, before the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge? Traffic patterns may change and demand on the Port Mann May decline, which in turn, reduce revenue.

    There is much that is wrong with our transit planning and it seems those in charge, want to keep a closed shop.

    D. M. Johnston

    January 31, 2009 at 7:19 am

  2. I would assume that this is one of the reasons that the same old consultants surface on project after project by the Ministry of Transportation.

    In the projects I have been involved with, foreign firms with solid international transportation planning experience are routinely rejected in favour of local firms who will tell the Ministry exactly what they want to hear. I know of two projects where firms with worldwide LRT planning experience overlooked in favour of two local firms who only had experience planning Skytrain.

    Same old, same old.


    February 1, 2009 at 12:56 pm

  3. In fact, local consultants are basically in the Ministry’s pocket in terms of study outcomes. Being that the Ministry (and TransLink to a certain extent) are the only real big money game around, telling the Ministry that LRT would be better in any given situation (or telling them anything they don’t want to hear) is tantamount to putting yourself out of business.

    The Ministry effectively controls the outcome of studies by dangling the purse strings, and keeping the local players solidly under their control.


    February 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

  4. Steve, quite right! This sort of SkyTrain nonsense has also extended to the Universities, where the SkyTrain lobby has exerted great pressure on professors who support LRT.

    What has happened is that the case for SkyTrain has so much voodoo science that, those supporting SkyTrain, are (so to speak) laughed off the stage at international transportation conferences. Only in Vancouver is seems that LRT can only carry feeble numbers of riders, at a slower than walking pace speed, killing scores of people each year and comes to grief at any sort of road crossing.

    The sad part of all this, is a lot of good people have been sucked up into the SkyTrain myth, that out transit/transportation planning in the region has been utterly corrupted.

    As i have stated before, LRT is no transit panacea, but just the positives with LRT, the alternatives pale.

    SkyTrain and its subterranean cousin RAV are the precursors for the Gateway highways project.

    D.M. Johnston

    February 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

  5. I attended the “debate” between Condon and Harcourt a few weeks back, and after about five minutes they both agreed that LRT was the way to go!

    Not much of a debate, really.

    Harcourt also came right out and said something to the effect of: Don’t kid yourselves, they will NEVER build Skytrain out to UBC.


    February 1, 2009 at 6:25 pm

  6. Ha, ha, ha; they said the same thing in the 90’s for the Broadway Lougheed R/T project, now know as the Millennium Line.

    I would have attended but I have been fighting the after effects of pneumonia for some weeks!

    D.M. Johnston

    February 1, 2009 at 7:44 pm

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