Stephen Rees's blog

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

Can Nothing Kill Highway Expansion?

with 22 comments

To its proponents and its supporters the idea of widening Highway #1 and the Port Mann has always been seen as hugely desirable. While they claim it would relieve traffic congestion, even they concede that it is, at best, a short term fix. But that is because, they think, the gold of property development along its route makes it worthwhile. But we are beginning to realise that this is in fact fairy gold. The conditions that once made low density suburbs worthwhile speculations are now gone – and probably for good.

The province released the news – on Friday afternoon, the best time to bury unfavourable stories – that its P3 with McQuarie bank and its partners has finally collapsed as unfinanceable. Falcon is of course not fazed by this and intends to proceed – using our money and not the banks – anyway. Of course the additional $3bn this will add to provincial indebtedness over th e next few years has not been in any budget or spending estimates.

I would argue that he does not have any authority to proceed. The project now bears little resemblance to its original proposal – or cost estimate. The world has also changed dramatically since then. Or rather many more people have now been forced to recognise the fundamental unreality of the assumptions they were then working on.

Oil is running out – and though cheap now, will not be for much longer. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not some vague commitment to the future but a desperate and immediate need. The idea that we can still truck fresh fruit and veg from California – which faces severe drought and has cut water allocations to farmers – is no longer feasible. Trade in containers from China is way down. Even – dreadful prospect – the price of local real estate is falling. None of the assumptions of the Gateway now hold true.

Yet Flacon still thinks we need his mega highway. And of course we never did – and need it even less now. We do need farmland, clean air and greenhouse gas reductions. We do need alternatives to driving. That means if we can borrow $3bn (and that seems doubtful too) we should not be spending it on roads but on transit. Many more buses – and bus lanes – as well as light rail. Low cost, easy to to construct, quick to deliver solutions that both meet the needs of the present better than freeways ever could but also allow for a denser, transit oriented region. That consumes less fuel, less land and provides a more certain future.

The BC Liberal party tried to pretend it was green with a feeble carbon tax and commitments to nonsense like the hydrogen highway. It is clear now that these ideas are barren. We must change course – and despite what they are claiming it is not at all too late to cancel the entire program and replace it with ideas that work.

The most bogus element of the current proposal is that the new Port Mann could carry light rail in the future. But it is fairly certain that is not intended to be built any time soon – and certainly not on opening day. There is no plan anywhere that shows what this light rail line would look like – where it would go on either side of the bridge. It has not been shown in any plan.

If the Province was serious about dealing with traffic congestion it wouldl have put traffic metering on the on ramps – signals that limit the amount of traffic allowed to join the crowded lanes just before the bridge. These are, oddly enough installed after the bridge already. A bus queue jumper lane could have been built on the hard shoulder northbound in Surrey years ago. One is under construction in Richmond now – so they know how to do it. They just don’t want to. They hope we won’t notice that what this project is all about as usual is property speculation. But Falcon seems not to have noticed that that bubble has burst too. Along with all his other delusions.

The saddest comment is that just before this inevitable announcement, carol James appeared to endorse the widening. A huge mistake. The NDP has now lost all credibility on transport and the environment. If these issues concern you the way they concern me we must turn our attention and our votes elsewhere.

If you really want a green alternative – you have to vote Green next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 28, 2009 at 8:18 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

22 Responses

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  1. I could not agree more Stephen. The NDP position is a great disappointment and I’ve emailed to tell them so. The way Falcon pushes this thing you’d think his life depended on it.


    February 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

  2. I’m sure his campaign contributors are counting on him delivering Wayne. He certainly has on the Sea to Sky, with a brand new interchange exactly where areas of property development will be.


    February 28, 2009 at 10:27 am

  3. Good to have an alternative point of view on these transportation topics. Good article.
    ps. I noticed a few typing (sp?) errors in the article


    February 28, 2009 at 10:31 am

  4. Wayne, to answer your question, Falcon’s political future may depend on a new bridge. I am told that his seat in South Surrey is on rather shaky ground at the moment and a new bridge is just the ticket for reelection.

    Carole James just doesn’t get it, or should I say her handlers just don’t get it. I am also told that May’s election could be won by who can get their own vote out as a majority of the population hold both parties in high odor. South Delta may elect an independent to the legislature in one of the BC Liberals safest seats!

    BC’s political capital has always been on ‘rubber on asphalt’ as it give politic ans the best bang for their buck. They are able to spread the taxpayer’s money to a lot of people with big highway projects. Same is true with big rapid transit projects as well.

    I can’t see the rush for the Port Mann until we see what effect the Golden Ears bridge has on traffic, it may just take a lot of pressure off the Port Mann.

    I do not think I will get an argument from anyone that the bridge that needs to be replaced is the Puttallo Bridge – god knows the damn thing still has wooden parts to it and the foundations are non to thrilling either!

    How about replacing it with a combined road/rail bridge, something like the GVRD planned for in 1979 P.S. (Pre SkyTrain)

    Too simple for Carole and Gordo?

    D. M. Johnston

    February 28, 2009 at 10:56 am

  5. While I find Carole James’ handling of this affair to be terribly inept and ill-informed, I find the prospect of splitting the anti-Liberal vote and Gordon Campbell remaining in office reprehensible.

    Given how the Liberals have been at the helm of policies that have caused such wide-ranging environmental destruction, increased poverty, and a widening gap between rich & poor that squeezes out the middle class, we can ill afford another term of this ruinous profiteering. I will vote strategically for the NDP but also for STV, so that in future I can freely vote for the party that best represents the interests of the province.


    February 28, 2009 at 11:25 am

  6. Well put Romeogolf. I will be doing the same, as a vote for the Greens without STV is a de facto vote for Gordo.


    February 28, 2009 at 5:54 pm

  7. A combined road/Rrail Patullo is being considered – see the May 2008 TransLink report here:

    Click to access Pattullo_Executive_Summary_REV2.pdf

    Ron C.

    February 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm

  8. Jamie – a spotty internet connection and a notebook with a tiny screen made posting anything a challenge. I think I have corrected the typos now

    Stephen Rees

    February 28, 2009 at 8:23 pm

  9. Before we criticize the Politicians too harshly, we must admit that the Port Mann expansion project has popular public support. Killing the project would be about as popular as banning alcohol. It goes down to the old question, do we elect politicians to do what we want or to do what is good for us? Unfortunately the two are almost always at odds. As with much of North America, we are addicted to the automobile. I don’t use that term lightly. In terms of addiction most North Americans are as attached to their car as the most desperate addict on the Downtown Eastside is addicted to his or her drugs. The tragedy of it all is that the effects of automobile addiction aren’t felt immediately. The worst effects are a generation or two down the road, well past the time when the damage can be easily reversed.

    The sad reality is that this addiction will be with us until the tide of public opinion turns against the automobile. Only then will Politicians have the courage to speak out against the car because it is only then they will have a chance of getting or staying elected. Human kind does not have a good track record at welcoming the few voices in the wilderness who first sound the call for change. Historically, those who do call for change suffer a rather tragic fate and many perish before change is realized. I guess the one bright spot is that nobody here will be burned at the stake for airing what they believe to be true.

    The question is how bad the damage will be before the public realizes that change must happen. Technology has given us the ability to wreak havoc much more quickly than we have the capacity to realize the harm being done. If there is hope, it is that the Earth has been around a very long time, has been through alot and has a good capacity to heal itself given time. That doesn’t mean a few hundred years of human misery won’t ensue in the interim however. In the meantime, one small thing that can be done is to vote in favour of the STV in the upcoming election. That gives those voices in the wilderness a bit of a voice in our halls of government. Again, at least its aim improvement from being burned at the stake.


    February 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm

  10. John,

    I’m not so sure the politicians don’t deserve alot of blame for this situation.
    – At the Gateway open houses most feedback comments provided were pro-transit, and not pro-highway expansion. (this is why the province had to add transit embellishments to the project)
    – The project was announced 5 years ago, and won’t be completed for another 4-5 years. There’s no reason why the province could not have tried the proven, low cost, easy to implement solutions (which Stephen mentions in his blog) during this time. It is entirely possible that the pressure could have been taken off the bridge (especially with Golden Ears opening up this fall) such that the traffic would be moving freely again.
    – TransLink had planned to put queue jumper lanes and a new bus service at the 152nd St on-ramp (where 30% of the bridge traffic comes from) in 2007 but the province cancelled the project.

    You make some valid points, but Metro Vancouver had the regional plans in place to do the right thing (very few regions in North America can claim that) and significant regional political will existed, but the Province steam rollered over the whole process.

    Its been very dissappointing that the public has not run the Province out of town… but I guess it was too easy to be comforted by the Province that its ok to keep driving… and that the province will take care of our driving needs…


    February 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

  11. John, the public supporting Gateway is a canard. See e.g. for how opinion is massaged and for a much fairer poll


    March 1, 2009 at 4:09 am

  12. It is sad that we no longer have a democracy wherein the opinion of the majority is the deciding factor in thse governments. This Liberal government is acting on behalf of corporate big business and bottom line profit with no real long term understanding that we need to put feeding our population before the fattening of investor pocketbooks. Long term, an economy based on sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry and fisheries, not to mention public involvement into a “smart” grin would make us all prosper…but then there would be no need for corporations! When one looks at the fact that there never has been a double-entry accounting ledger for resource export, for example we would attach a value to a tree, a river, agricultural land, and actually remove it from the provincal leger when we sell it to the lowest corporate bidder….we would find our government has been selling off our assets at fire-sale prices for decades.


    March 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

  13. If people continue to vote “strategically” for one of two evils, you never actually rid yourself of evil.

    Since many people seem scared of voting Green, Conservative or Independent, we need to get as much support as we can behind the STV referendum.


    March 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm

  14. But – we really need Gateway for all the cars that will be on the road!


    March 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

  15. I am going to play the devil’s advocate here. It is easy for many people, including me (carless by choice), to bemoan the fixation so many people in B.C. have on cars but, really, what alternative is there? hordes of families have to live in the suburbs and beyond–including me– because 1-it is the only housing they can afford and 2-they might even get a bigger place for a given price. Then they have to go to work in places where there is either no transit or it takes way too long to go there. It is easy to talk about the Europeans and Japanese as an example of what should be done here however the great trains and subways systems they got were built, or at least started, a long long time ago. In addition not all Europeans and Japanese live and work in places near a rapid transit system. Only the urban dwellers do. As I mentioned in other posts my birth town, Bordeaux (France) had only 1 bridge, and streets full of cars that could only crawl along, until the mid-1960s. Now it has a great LRT system and lots of pedestrian streets but only because several bridges and freeway circling the town were built between the mid-60s and the late 70s. More and more people are now living farther and farther from the centre, for financial reasons, as here. Yes many use commuter trains (50 trains a day on one line alone!) but the discounted fares would give a heart attack to most Lower Mainlanders! In the Bordeaux region a train pass + a pass for downtown trams/buses (both loaded in a smart card)cost from Euros 100.00 to 315.00 per month depending on the distance. In London a Tube pass cost between £ 99.10 and £ 261.20 per month (this includes a discount)depending on the distance (convert Euros and pounds to Can. $ for a reality check). I WILL say that the Gateway project would make more sense if they had planned it with a space available for rapid transit, as they did in Portland when building the I-205. Now they are building there their 4th LRT line. Transit and roads are both necessary evils. One thing we should do is reduce the appalling number of single drivers that use our roads! cutting back the numbers by at least 30 % would go a long way to open up existing freeways.

    Red frog

    March 2, 2009 at 1:46 pm

  16. So true RedFrog. The closure of the Pattullo bridge showed us very clearly that most people either won’t or, more likely, can’t give up their cars.

    Our region was built up in the post-war, auto-dependent era so that’s not much of a surprise, but almost every municipality in the region has gone out of its way to make decisions contrary to the livable region strategy. Surrey has finally decided it wants a “downtown”, but only after years of creating “business parks” and single use residential areas with no shops or services other than gas stations and schools.

    Over on the transit side we’ve had 30 years of provincial government meddling that has limited expansion of the bus system and poured billions into just three rail lines. The net result is that even people who want to use transit have few choices.


    March 2, 2009 at 2:49 pm

  17. I don’t buy the concept that people live in the suburbs because that is “all they can afford”. They do it in large part because of misaligned values. They mistakenly feel it is better for the kids, or they feel that more space is somehow better.

    People that choose to live in cul-de-sacs buried in obscure suburban developments SHOULD be stuck in traffic, and have no right to complain about poor transit service. Those are the costs associated with their poor choice of where to live.

    And, if lifestyle and well-being mattered the financial cost of living in a better-equipped neighbourhood would pale in comparison to the gains on the other metrics.

    Regardless, a lot COULD be accomplished during this recession and the years to follow. Unfortunately, our governments are choosing to fight the inevitable by building 10-lane behemoth bridges.


    March 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm

  18. Re: RedFrog’s comment (it’s a tough role, devil’s advocate!):

    1) if people factored in their travel expenses when considering the ‘cheaper’ homes far from where they work, they might make different decisions – especially if they put a cost to the time spent commuting.

    2) I’m confused about how spending $3.3 billion to futher enable car-dependancy (rather than build transit) is helping the poor car-dependant people in the suburbs who want to ride transit but can’t.

    If we believe that a portion of people in the suburbs have to live there because they can’t afford to live elsewhere (which I don’t necessarily believe) and they WANT to take transit (which, to some degree I do believe), then the logical response is to spend a whack of money (say 3.3 billion – since we have it laying around) to build those people transit! I’m all for that! Building roads to enable even MORE people to make the decision to live far from work and drive everywhere is just digging ourselves a bigger hole.


    March 2, 2009 at 6:26 pm

  19. Well Shane, it really would be nice to have a kitchen where two people can work without running into each other or simultaneously wanting to use the only counter top. I think my daughter would like to have a bedroom that doesn’t include her little brother and I think they’d both like to have a back yard to play in. What’s misaligned about that?

    I have chosen to live in the same city as my job and take transit to work because it means I can to spend more time at home. Getting to watch my kids grow up is a joy, but I still wish I could give them separate rooms.


    March 2, 2009 at 10:41 pm

  20. Thank you David, Shane and L. You all make very good points but some of you haven’t obviously spent enough time talking to “car-dependent” people. I am one of the few at work without a car, by choice. My car crazy colleagues sincerely believe that I should buy a car instead of wasting money travelling around the world. I have demonstrated to them many times that by not having a car I not only can travel 1 or 2 times yearly but ALSO put money aside. BUT to them a car is much more valuable than anything. It is proof that they are successful and the fact that they have to max their credit cards to run that car doesn’t mean anything to them. In addition many people wouldn’t take transit if their lives depended on it. I have talked to Canadian-born university graduates who have never ever used transit in their-still young–lives and juggle a couple of low paid jobs, one of them just to pay for the car. For a huge number of people living without a car is just not an option and transit to them means buses cluttering their holy roads. This not just a B.C phenomenon. When I look at Bordeaux on Google earth I can see that big chunks of forest and fields on the right bank hills where I used to roam in my teen years are now subdivisions. Some do take the LRT to shop downtown but only because 1-many downtown stores are one of a kind AND 2-for Euros 2.60 one park a car for the day in a Park & ride lot and also get, for that price, a return ticket for the driver and each passenger. Many more drive to the various suburban shopping malls. My dad drove everywhere. He even drove from home to work and back twice a day (he went home for lunch) while Mom, who worked in the same place, walked! The whole neighbourhood got a quick out of their routine as my parents lived 2 blocks from work.

    Red frog

    March 3, 2009 at 2:22 am

  21. I grew up in the suburbs myself, and I regret that my parents made that decision. It was a soulless existence that meant driving to the closest store to get milk (it was walking distance in urban terms, but it is counter-culture to walk in the suburbs), and the only real source of entertainment was a mall and a megaplex movie theatre – great cultural icons that likely reinforce the suburban existence as “normal”.

    Every couple I know today that is my age and has bought into an oversized house in the suburbs regrets it. Now, they sense the lifestyle difference between “neighbourhood” and “subdivision”.


    March 3, 2009 at 8:31 am

  22. I think we tend to forget that to get the traffic flowing on Hwy 1 over the PM bridge, we only need to remove 10-15% of the traffic during peak hours. Ideally that should all be removed at the 152nd St. on ramp heading west.
    Congested traffic is very non-linear in behavior, so we get a large benefit from removing a small amount of traffic.

    Hence *we do not need to change everyone’s lifestyles* to fix this problem. We only need to provide 10-15% of the traffic with decent transit, encourage them to carpool, travel off peak, or eliminate the need for them to make the trip. This would buy time to allow us to put in place a much better transit system south of the Fraser and start the shift that we all know needs to happen. And don’t forget that the Golden Ears bridge is going to open in the fall of this year.

    Two things need to be done to accomplish this:
    – Queue jumper lanes at 152nd St. (for transit and HOV), accompanied by a good bus service between Surrey and Coquitlam.
    – ramp metering at 152nd St (perhaps other on-ramps) so that traffic can flow optimally at the bridge approach and encourage people to use transit or car pool.

    The cost of implementing this is probably less than the Gateway advertising budget.

    It cannot be understated either that a vehicle removed from the Hwy 1 corridor is also a vehicle removed from the local arterial roads which it would inevitably travel on. This, of course, cannot be said for bridge expansion.


    March 4, 2009 at 10:43 pm

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