So What's Wrong With a 10-lane Bridge?

It has been confirmed: the provincial government's new plan is to replace the Port Mann with a single, 10-lane bridge, at a total cost of $3.3 billion. The current Port Mann received a $35million upgrade in 2001, and has at least 30 years left in its life.

Premier Gordon Campbell and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon made the announcement today. Falcon later, on CBC radio, tried to draw attention to the dedicated rapid-bus lanes:

"It's not 10 lanes for cars, there are two lanes dedicated to the new rapid-bus service that will open on day one when the bridge opens... that will allow people to get from Langley to the Burnaby Skytrain station in 23 minutes."

In addition, in what he must see as a huge concession to those wishing to see rail running over the Fraser, he mentioned that the bus lanes can "be converted to rapid transit in the future, when population growth would justify that investment". Never mind that the congested current span is obvious proof that there is enough demand for better transit already, or that an Interurban line ran to Chilliwack 80 years ago.

What really gets me about this is that this is the craziest 'scope creep' I've ever seen, and it's being rammed down the throats of everyone in the region - just like the other transit and infrastructure projects undertaken by this government. This bridge is not at all the same project as the one initially presented - and I doubt this will see a new environmental assessment, or a new round of public consultations undertaken.

Falcon remarked that "10 000 people have taken part in the public consultations" over 5 years - but the consultations were simply design discussions: the scope of the project, or possible alternatives, were never offered up for discussion.

It is unfortunate that the party best in a position to widen the discussion is only into focusing on details - such as tolls, which is the one part I agree with. If it is to be built, then get those who choose to use it to pay for it. If you are crazy enough to make two trips across it a day to and from work, it will cost you around $1500 per year to do so - as it should.

As is vogue for any gush of spending in "these tough economic times", the project was hailed for its' job creation value. However, this investment (which will begin too late to assist during the current recession, unless it lasts for several years), as any road building project, will only provide a short-term boost, as explains Eric Doherty, of the the LRC:

“The Port Mann freeway expansion plan would create far fewer jobs than transit investment which is the only way to really deal with congestion. If they were serious about doing something about reducing pollution, slowing global warming and creating jobs, investing in improved public transit is the way to go,” said transportation planner and Livable Region Coalition Spokesperson Eric Doherty.

“They could add a ‘queue jumper’ lane and have buses running across the Port Mann within 6 months. They could also buy about 400 buses, and pay all the operating expenses, including drivers’ salaries and fuel, for 30 years for less money than this freeway expansion will cost,” said Doherty.

The BC Treasury Board estimates that about 3 times as many jobs can be created by investing in public transit than by investing in highway construction. A poll released by the Livable Region Coalition last May shows that two thirds of Lower Mainland residents would support funding for highway expansions being re-directed to public transit in light of concerns about global warming. A report by the Livable Region Coalition shows that carbon emissions would increase by about 30% as the result of the Gateway project.