Stephen Rees's blog

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

Climate Change, NDP economics and the Tunnel

with 4 comments


I am going to point you to two columns – both in the Vancouver Sun recently and thus behind their paywall. This breaks my undertaking not to subject you to needless expense – but I am sure that by now you have learned how to avoid that.

The first is the Pete McMartin column that deals with climate change and why it is going to be much worse than we thought and much sooner. “Global warming’s new frightening deadline” looks at an article in Nature from 2009. That story was “impenetrable” so he got it via the non-profit news agency, InsideClimate News. If you read this blog regularly – with its 350 badge – then you probably know all this already, and if you don’t its probably because you have fallen for the lies peddled by the Koch brothers. We are not going to stop at 350ppm – nor 2℃. Probably not 4℃ either and 2 would have been catastrophic.

“The carbon budget implied by the 2 C limit,” Jaccard wrote, “means that we cannot be making new investments that expand the carbon polluting infrastructure.

“This means no expansion of oilsands, no new pipelines (like Keystone and Northern Gateway) and no expansion of coal mines and coal ports.”

The second is by Vaughan Palmer and looks at a shorter term issue – and one that I have touched on here. What the NDP is going to do once elected. “B.C. NDP supporters’ dreams of good times ahead likely to be dashed” He fleshes out what Geoff Megs was telling me – we are stuck with MSP and cannot expect them to raise income tax levels beyond the small amount that was in the most recent budget. It is all about reducing expectations in the name of electability. While Palmer is right in his statements, I think the NDP leadership is wrong to take the current conventional wisdom as truth.

First of all there is the potential for not giving away our natural resources. Because of story number 1 I think we should leave the coal, oil and gas under the ground. But given that current operations are going to continue then they ought to be priced properly. I doubt that raising the carbon tax alone is enough and besides I keep reading the stories about how they do things differently in Norway. That ought to be example enough. The MSP could be replaced by income tax – that is fairer than the flat level fee now charged but remitted to the very poor. The graduated scale of income tax is better, the amount collected could stay the same, and the right people (those who can easily afford it) would be paying most of it. It could equally be argued that there are plenty of other worthy cases. The headline reference to “Good Times” suggests a party. We are not talking about a party, we are talking about restoring a measure of social justice. “Publicly funded child care, … raising rates for social assistance, more resources in the classroom ” are all good and worthy policies.

“Reinvestment in the forests” is trickier – but is certainly a better objective than just giving away all the cutting rights for free which is what the current government is trying to do in its dying days. The last thing we need to do is allow a hell for leather rush to cut down the trees as fast as possible in the name of quick profits.

The other thing that we must do is change the mindset that says we cannot afford rapid transit – so we must chose between the UBC subway or Surrey LRT – but the tunnel under the Fraser must be replaced because of congestion on Highway 99. There is indeed a very short window of opportunity to comment – but the report on Phase 1 makes it clear that the majority of those consulted so far still believe that expanding highways cures congestion. Those few of us who did suggest real alternatives are treated as an eccentric, insignificant minority. Harry Lali was on the CBC News last night – and he looked like a transportation critic who has not had time to master his brief. The NDP made the mistake last time of continuing to build the Island Highway – and then got bogged down by the fast ferries, which they thought did not need anything like a basic travel demand study let alone a full cost benefit analysis.

I missed a report on NEWS1130 on March 7 when Adrian Dix made it clear that he is not committed by the present process

“The Liberals have talked about the Massey Tunnel,” he says. “I think the premier, in her speech to the UBCM, talked about the Massey Tunnel. There’s no money or real plan attached to that.”

Hat tip to Eric Doherty for posting that to trans-action

Popular opinion has been steadily misled but is at least willing to consider (transit) alternatives – as the Tunnel Phase 1 report makes clear. They are just not being given any real alternative

• Scenario 1 – Maintain Existing Tunnel
• Scenario 2 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Bridge
• Scenario 3 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Tunnel
• Scenario 4 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing along Existing Highway 99 Corridor
• Scenario 5 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing in a New Corridor

In Phase 1 a significant number of people expressed interest in a transit alternative as way of tackling congestion. Do you see any mention of transit in those scenarios?

CN 7206 Shell Rd at Hwy 99, Richmond BC 2006_0404

CN has announced – several years ago – its intention to abandon their current operation along Shell Road. This route parallels Highway #99 and gets close to the northern portal of the tunnel. CN are going to link to their other line at the eastern end of Lulu Island – so the freight service to the port continues. In most other countries, when looking for a way to expand rapid transit the first place you look is for a disused rail corridor. Of course it needs upgrading – double track for a start – and while modern electric traction can cope with grades up to 6% easily (and steeper if necessary) getting over both the North and South Arms of the Fraser will not be cheap or easy, but is perfectly feasible and cheaper than building a much wider highway bridge. And yes it could be linked to the old CP Arbutus right of way, and the line that runs on the north bank of the North Arm from Marpole out to Coquitlam. This line was indeed considered by  Translink for LRT not so long ago. What it might do South of the Fraser might be to provide a fast passenger service to the ferries (and the Tsawassen’s massive development projects).

There are three open houses this week and you can also respond on line. Please do, if only to make the numbers of those saying no to highways look a bit more respectable.


Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has spoken out strongly against Option 5 – the idea of a new bridge across the South Arm to No 8 Road

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

4 Responses

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  1. How can the Province call this consultation when there are no costs attached to the alternatives? Would you like a 500 square foot condo in Burnaby or a 5,000 square foot waterfront mansion in West Vancouver? Yet another scam public relations exercise calling itself consultation

    Local Voter

    March 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

  2. It makes eminent sense to build a relatively small and affordable transit-only cable-stayed bridge which could accommodate commuter rail and buses across the South Arm (i.e. max 4 lanes) and only repair / maintain the existing tunnel. A bridge would be easier to repair after an eathquake, but a seriously cracked and flooded tunnel would pose a more difficult challenge. The transit-only bridge may be too much on the creative thinking side of the ledger for the Ministry of Last Century Freeway Builders to grasp. If they can find a way to connect a commuter rail service from the Shell Road corridor to Bridgeport Station or Marine Drive Station, then a whole new transit dynamic would be set up. A successful rail connection could feasibly result in cars being taken off the road, perhaps dramatically so.


    Though I left Alberta over 30 years ago I still take an interest in current affairs there. My friends and relatives there don’t like me comparing Alberta to Norway, or to point out that the “low tax” policies are in fact based on an artificial construct, not on a viable economic foundation. Despite an enormous petroleum endowment, Alberta has run deficit budgets. The alarm bells are going off and a cacophony of chattering about it has evolved in the most conservative class of the most conservative province. The meme of the Ages is on a continuous loop: We must live within our means / They’re spending like drunken sailors / Cut public services / etc.

    The fundamental mistakes Alberta continues to make repeatedly are: To offset their annual budgets with royalties from oil to keep taxes artificially low (to the point of braggadocio); to build major projects like hospitals and freeways under this flawed financing method; to refuse to bank / invest all of the royalties and never touch the principle; to weaken the public’s stake in their own resource by charging royalty rates that are far too low to companies that are friends of (read: give money to) the government; and now to give the faintest of cynical lip service to the true costs of petroleum, notably its huge environmental footprint.

    Peter Lougheed, arguably one of the greatest leaders Canada has ever seen, started Alberta on the Norway track with the creation of the Heritage Trust Fund in the early 70s. He fought back the inevitable Big Oil backlash by telling them in no uncertain terms that the oil belongs to the people, not the multinationals. Back then Alberta was awash in the easy exploitation and production of cheap conventional oil and gas (large-scale tar sands mining was still a long ways off), but Lougheed built up the fund up to $13 billion by the end of his last term in 1985 (over $25 billion in today’s dollars) while also building up the social safety net. His government’s policy was, like Norway today, to invest the principal and use only the interest to offset annual budgets, and use tax increases (I believe he tied them to inflation) to finance the rest. It was a time of great stability and he went on to other things like negotiating the constitution with Trudeau by taking a strong regional stand but also respecting the fact that, in his own words, he was a Canadian before he was an Albertan, and in the decade before his recent death to tell the public that governments and the petroleum industry must come to grips with environmental given the increasingly disturbing evidence that climate change has become the issue of our times.

    Lougheed did not care to move the province in the direction of having an equity stake in the oil, but at the time the federal government operated Petro Canada (not unlike Norway’s Statoil) and therein the nation shared the wealth to a limited degree. Trudeau went on to try for a greater stake with the attempt to institute the National Energy Program in the early 80s but was slapped down for his constitutional overreach. The NEP rankles Albertans to this day and a “National Plan” of any kind would now have a rough ride, at least if it takes that moniker.

    Today we see this big push to export Alberta’s oil by the Alberta Government in Ottawa (aka Harperites) who indicated early on that they will do so by using BC as a doormat. I believe they underestimated the backlash. They have lost significant conservative support in northern BC, and there is almost a 2/3rds majority here against Northern Gateway, but that is by no means to say that they won’t try by shifting the terminus to Prince Rupert or allowing the bitumen to be exported by rail through Alaska.

    It is all a form of economics that is discredited increasingly on its own terms by critics like Robyn Allan and David Hughes. Given BC’s more diversified economy and our huge unexplored potential in base load renewables like geothermal (perhaps coupled with tidal), let alone conservation, who the hell here thinks we need ANY kind of oil when we could, if we really tried, create a value-added economy on industrial activity and urbanism energized from clean sources?


    March 13, 2013 at 11:06 am

  3. […] Climate Change, NDP economics and the Tunnel. “This means no expansion of oilsands, no new pipelines (like Keystone and Northern Gateway) and […]

  4. […] Even so, I want to draw attention to number three – the Massey Tunnel – just in case my vote influenced things at all. I was annoyed by the way the map selection tool worked on the survey. Since what I wanted to draw attention to is not the congestion on Highway #99 – but rather than on Steveston Highway. At that time I lived there – and saw the daily back up of traffic, queueing to get into the tunnel which sometimes got as far back as Number 4 Road – and always well past Shell. I used to have to plan my trips to avoid that length of road in the mid afternoon. The problem is the intersection. Some work is going on as a result of the re-development of the Fantasy gardens site at the intersection of Steveston Highway with No 5 Road. But that stops at the boundary (CoR/MoT) – because the Ministry is responsible for the two lane overpass. And that is now a real barrier to local movement as the rest of Steveston Highway is 4 four lanes – and the SilverCity Riverport complex generates lots of trips. My views on the tunnel are here. […]

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