It’s time for some straight talk about various road proposals being studied by the BC government’s engineering consultant.
Whether Howe Sound options cost $500 million or a billion, the population of the upper and lower Sunshine Coast combined is less than 50,000. That’s $10,000 to $20,000 for each of us and would cover a lot of ferry fares.
The suggestion that a fixed link across Howe Sound would ultimately lead to a semi-fixed link to Powell River is deceptive, to say the least: a bridge to Nelson Island (at least $1 billion any way you look at it), a road over Nelson Island (who’s in favour of that?), a second bridge to Hardy Island (another $500 million) and a cable ferry to Scotch Fir Point, all for a population of 20,000?
Forget the cable ferry, engineers say it would not work in that location, and if not there is no point in doing the rest. But what would it, or one of the Howe Sound options, do for the rest of the coastal communities anyway? It would do nothing.
Let’s get real. A fixed link across or around Howe Sound will be built, not to better serve the people of the Sunshine Coast, but to relieve congestion at Horseshoe Bay, where the province would then not have to spend $250 million on otherwise necessary upgrades.
Eliminating the Langdale ferry is a good start, but only a start. We can do more. Today, two ferry routes serve Nanaimo. Does a city that size need two ferries? Why not move the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route to Tsawwassen-Duke Point and make one route with as many runs as traffic supports?
Vancouver Island would be far better served by a beefed-up Comox-Powell River route linking a third crossing from the Island, connecting to the BC Interior and Lower Mainland. Congestion at Horseshoe Bay would become a thing of the past; only the Bowen Island ferry would remain.
Most Island-bound traffic would then use Tsawwassen, further reducing city traffic. Put it all together and one net effect would be a reduction in wear and tear on all highways and bridges leading to Horseshoe Bay. Departure Bay, Langdale and Horseshoe Bay terminal lands could be reclaimed and redeveloped. Travellers to and from the Interior could escape Vancouver’s congestion altogether.
That’s a pretty attractive package. It improves access to a vast new coastal area and represents a material advance for all of BC. All that’s needed is the vision and determination to make it happen.
A third crossing is the only fixed link that comes with all of the above benefits. In the end, it offers easy access to and from the coast, Lower Mainland and Interior, not to mention the best weather in all of Canada. It’s the key to a more prosperous and less-congested BC.
Gary Fribance is president of the Powell River-based Third Crossing Society.