Apply brakes now to B.C.’s transportation funding double standard

Building car capacity builds new car-dependent development, which creates new car congestion

C’mon people, we really can do better than this. Premier Christy Clark has announced the province is going to replace the George Massey Tunnel – to relieve congestion on this “economic bottleneck.” She says it’s necessary to accommodate population growth and increased truck traffic from expansion at Deltaport.

Unlike Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson is cheering her on, saying more vehicle capacity will also be needed for Tsawwassen First Nation’s new destination rogue shopping centre (the second-largest in B.C., contravening every planning principle espoused in the region in the past two decades).

This is so hard to believe – not that tunnel traffic is jamming up and needs to be reduced, but that we have to immediately assume the knee-jerk position: just build more car capacity. Especially when we know that it only works for a few years, and then we’re back at it again because building car capacity builds new car-dependent development, which creates new car congestion etc.

How is it that a major highway, bridge or tunnel project can get launched with a wave of the premier’s hand, funded from general revenue (maybe tolls), when transit projects have to painfully extract new money from local taxpayers, be integrated with regional land-use plans and then be approved by local politicians and an independent commissioner and usually the provincial government?

To add insult to new car injuries, the premier announces this project the same week the GetOnBoard campaign is begging for funding to reduce the congestion, social, economic and personal costs of today’s transit pass-ups and cutbacks.

In the words of former TransLink director Gordon Price, the premier demonstrated a “sense of timing that verges on contempt for those on overcrowded buses.”

Let’s assume that new truck traffic coming out of expanded Deltaport will reach its forecast potential of 450 more tunnel trips a day in 2017. By my calculation, that’s one additional truck every six minutes in each direction, spread over 24 hours.

In response, the premier announces a whole new crossing, putting us on a crash course with these trends:

•Tsawwassen ferry car traffic is decreasing and likely to decrease more as fares go up;

•Delta has the lowest growth of any municipality in the region;

•fewer young people are driving: the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds with B.C. drivers’ licences dropped from 79% in 1994 to 69% in 2011;

•use of transit is growing at three times the rate of car use in Metro Vancouver: population grew by 6% from 2008-11; car trips grew by only 4%, while transit use grew by 14%;

•the declines – yes, declines – in vehicle traffic over the south arm of the Fraser between 2004-08 (I couldn’t find more recent stats) were greatest at the George Massey Tunnel (down 7.5%); and

•all our best planning is doing its darndest to push regional growth to areas where people don’t have to use cars as much.

There are other cheaper, better, faster ways to reduce congestion in the tunnel. Spending maybe 1% of the cost of a new $3 billion crossing on more frequent, convenient, comfortable transit on routes that already bypass “economic bottlenecks” on Highway 99 is an obvious one. Filling one bus removes 40 cars from the road. Peak-hour or other kinds of road pricing are two others.

And if all this congestion-reducing talk is just a smokescreen for the real agenda – the port’s desire to remove the tunnel so deep-sea tankers can get up to Surrey-Fraser docks – let’s have a public discussion about all those costs and benefits and impacts – transparent, accountable, out in the open, just like everyone is asking of TransLink. •

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