Stephen Rees's blog

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

Port Mann- A Bridge Too Dear

with 2 comments

Guest Post from Karl Perrin, of the  Environmental Commitee of the                  Unitarian Church of Vancouver.

Do I have this right?

1. B.C.’s Minister of Transport does a poll (in good times) to find out what desperate commuters would pay to cross the Fraser: $3 (rounded up).

2. Then he asks “Who can twin the Port Mann, and maintain the existing bridge, for $3 a trip?  As a P3, you borrow the money, but future tolls will cover all your costs and profit.”

3. A consortium wins the bid, but doesn’t want to maintain the existing bridge.  They’d rather build a bigger bridge and tear down the existing bridge, for more profit.  New price: $3.3 billion.

4. But the consortium is broke.  First it gets a partial bail out, then a total bail out from B.C. taxpayers.  And we’re told the builders, with no equity to lose, would never walk away from an unfinished bridge, requiring further payments.  (Meanwhile, B.C.’s credit rating is in jeopardy.)

5. The Minister of Transport says, ‘Don’t worry.  Drivers will pay, not taxpayers.’  And removing the existing Port Mann bridge will force them to pay.  The $3 toll can increase by 2.5% per year.  Let’s see, 2.5% compounded over 40 years is … a lot!  (ignoring the possibility of deflation and lower wages for commuters).

6. So now, in a recession, in the name of jobs, we’re going to build a Cadillac toll bridge, tear down a free bridge, and pay for it with the future wages of well off commuters (again assuming they have jobs, cars, gas, and no alternative).  And if the drivers don’t come, because of all the attractive transit crossing the Fraser, then the taxpayers do pay off the bridge costs.

(I calculate a commuter paying the toll to and from work on two of every three days pays $1,458 in year one, and $3,915 in year forty, with $3 per trip increased by 2.5% per year.)

7. Oh, and by the way, when you trash a bridge, where do you put it?

What’s the global warming footprint of the blow-torches, explosives, and jack hammers?  What’s the salmon footprint?

What’s wrong with this picture?  It’s financially logical, assuming the economy is booming in 2013.  But then, so was the nuclear arms race, the tobacco industry, and the Tar Sands.  And all those industries produced lots of jobs.

Here’s a story about Henry Ford:
Henry Ford went to a junkyard and asked, “What part of my cars does not break down?”  “The steering column.”  Ford went back to his engineers and ordered them to design a crappier steering column.

(This didn’t actually happen, but you get the point: somehow the Ford Co. produced the Edsel and the Pinto.) Thus began planned obsolescence and the end of craftsmanship.  The result?—a toxic industry, dead Detroit, and a rust belt from Gary, Indiana to Buffalo.  How do we treat the mineral wealth, the natural resources of North America?  “Trash it and move on.”  And now we are here, in the valley of the greatest salmon river in the world—and salmon stocks are crashing.  And we’re about to destroy a good bridge.  How green was my valley.

Who asked for Gateway?  Who asked for a truckin’ freeway to take crap from Asia to Walmarts back east, toxic toys for the children of laid off GM workers?  Why trash Burns Bog, and industrialize the Fraser shores?  Are we idiots to trust politicians with our money?

Why would we tear down a perfectly good free bridge?  Clearly, so drivers will pay $3+.  But what if

1. They paid $3 tolls now with time sensitive electronic tolls (i.e. less in non-peak hours)?

2. Queue jumper lanes, like those on the tunnel, allowing buses to access the bridge faster than cars?

3. more and longer Sky-Trains? Another Sky-Train bridge?

4. trucks go free after 8 pm?

Would we need another toll bridge? Why not make the Pattullo replacement bridge bigger?  Why not start over? ($3.3 billion could build a lot of transit!)

And what about Gordon Campbell’s wish to cut B.C.’s greenhouse gases by 33% by 2020 from 2007 levels?  Is he serious?  Producing a tonne of cement creates a tonne of CO2, before you even start moving it.  Imagine the carbon footprint of a ten lane bridge, to say nothing of the rest of Gateway.

Our Unitarian minister a few years ago, Dr. Bill Houff, looked at the destruction of perfectly good houses in his neighbourhood, and called it “vandalism”.  Spending $3,300,000,000. to build one bridge, tear down another, and turn farms into container parking lots, is vandalism on a massive scale.  It’s stealing the future from our children.  It’s all very logical, and totally insane.

Our civilization must change.  “Trash and move on” and the Earth becomes a rust belt.  Stop Gateway!

And then I had a dream.  If the jobs-at-all-costs faction wins, and they build the new Port Mann bridge, why tear down the old one?  Why not use it as a park, with slow, electric buses, cars, and bikes?  Why not build planters down the middle, for community gardens?  Why not give tourists an unobstructed view of Mt.Baker, the Fraser River, and the eagles over the valley?

Why should B.C. tax-payers subsidize cars, trucks, and container traffic from Asia to eastern North America?
Why tear down a perfectly good bridge?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 9, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Gateway

2 Responses

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  1. A work of art. Thank you.


    March 9, 2009 at 3:33 pm

  2. Beautifully and logically written. This should be used as a rally call to take real action against this moronic project.


    March 12, 2009 at 5:44 pm

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