Stephen Rees's blog

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

Four-step program for buying a bigger bridge blows the budget

with one comment

Vaughan Palmer of the Vancouver Sun is at last persuaded that this is a story worth his attention.

He is concentrating on how a $1.5bn project [June 2008] came to cost $3.3bn. Which has to be paid back by people (and trucks) using the bridge at $3 a pop – or ” in excess of $100 million” a year – or a 30 year pay off roughly – if the costs of toll collection and maintenance have been properly annualised into that $3.3bn.

Now the risk here is that someone will actually build the proposed rapid transit line which the bridge can supposedly carry. What happens then is that people start switching to transit – or indeed the much vaunted rapid bus that will be on the bridge from opening day. Buses (and trains) won’t pay tolls. So how does McQuarie make lots of money then. Or do they go to court to stop activities that might reduce their revenue (as other private sector toll road operators have done)?

It is of course quite hard for anyone to make sense of any of this since there is still no contract – and the devil as always is in the details. The deal will be signed, then we will be committed to the project, and only then will the voters of BC have any idea of the size of the bill we will be stuck with. If they sign before the election (and I suspect there will be a lot of pressure to do so) my prediction is that this story will resurface immediately afterwards – in a very similar fashion to the Olympic Village.

It is a shame that Mr Palmer does not spare any words to cover any of the other issues surrounding this bridge. I can understand that. He only has a certain allocation of column inches, and he decided to stick to the most outstanding feature of yesterday’s announcement. But the project was created in a time when it was expected that growth would continue indefinitely, and that that was a Good Thing. Times have changed. It is now apparent that we face a whole new range of challenges – and that relying on fossil fuels has become an extremely dangerous way to proceed. The very concept of economic growth as a constant is also being questioned all around the world. Most places have long ago recognised that people need alternatives to driving, and are concentrating their investments into those alternatives. Especially ones that allow people to get around without needing to burn a lot of oil.

If we have $3.3bn to spend (and I am far from sure we do – but let’s take that as a starting point for now) we could build electric powered rapid transit that would penetrate every part of the region. Of course, it would need to be on the surface and other modes would have to yield precedence whenever a train was moving. This does give a lot of people conniptions I know, but it is not unusual for cities to adopt this kind of  approach. And it is becoming more widespread. Whatever happens to oil, we would then be able to operate a region wide transit system on whatever power source proved workable – hydro (obviously) but also wind, wave, tidal, geo-thermal, solar – all options that are sustainable and whose environmental impact is far less than any fossil fuel. At the same time we could rebuild our communities to be walkable and transit friendly. This will take time, but is also a sensible recognition that car orientation has not served us well even when gasoline was cheap.

The days of the climate change deniers are over. It is very clear that the earlier forecasts of dramatic and disastrous impacts were optimistic. Effects such a loss of the ice caps and the glaciers are visibly faster than the IPCC’s prediction. Pretending that we can build our way out of traffic congestion is foolish. Acting as though the climate is not changing rapidly is criminally negligent – because death rates from severe climate events and the consequences of rising sea levels are apparent now. How on earth Gordon Campbell can keep two mutually exclusive ideas in his head (we must fight climate change and build a ten lane freeway bridge) is beyond my understanding.

What really worries me is that our local media commentators are not yet making this linkage. Becuase if Vaughan Palmer does not start into this area soon – who will?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Environment, Gateway

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One Response

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  1. Let’s hope lawsuits against the Province from the unsuccessful bidders who ended up wasting their time on bids for a completely different bridge project make this a story the media can’t ignore.


    February 5, 2009 at 10:18 pm

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