Thursday, December 17, 2015

Region wants transit, province wants $3.5 billion Massey Mega-Bridge

The federal Conservatives handed out 1.5 billion dollars to build more light rail in Calgary this summer. Around the same time, the Tories announced they would invest $2.6 billion to fund transit in Greater Toronto. The former Harper Government was looking to invest in transit within Metro Vancouver, but because of the BC Liberals’ unwillingness to enable funding required at the local and provincial level, our region was left empty handed.

This fall, Trudeau and the federal Liberals swept into power. One of their biggest priorities is to invest $2 billion per year for transit over the next decade.

So with the region calling for more transit, and the two successive federal governments committed to spending billions on transit, what is the province's top transportation priority? Building a $3 billion $3.5 billion Massey Bridge.

A conceptual design of the new Massey Bridge. Source: BC MoTI Flickr. Select image to enlarge.

The province will only commit to investing $1.75 billion to support the Mayors' Council Regional Transportation Investments 10-year plan. This is not enough to make it happen. $3.5 billion would support the total cost of building new transit service throughout the region including the Broadway SkyTrain extension and Surrey Light Rail!

The Massey Bridge Project Definition Report states that one of the justifications for building a new bridge is that it will support transit. So how is the provincial government going to support transit on that corridor? By ripping up the current bus-only lanes, and replace them with "a continuous dedicated transit/HOV lane between Highway 91 in Delta and Bridgeport Road in Richmond."

Nine northbound TransLink bus routes use the Tunnel during the morning rush. While these buses comprise only 1 per cent of the rush-hour traffic, they carry about 17 per cent of all Tunnel travellers. However, transit is not practical for approximately 70 per cent of northbound weekday drivers through the Tunnel. This includes commercial vehicles, tourists, and commuters travelling to or from areas with limited or no transit service.

Commercial vehicles represent about 5 – 15% of traffic depending on the time of day according to the province's own numbers in the report. Many people drive on the Highway 99 corridor because transit service is not available. The solution to this problem, of course, would be to invest in more transit service. Unfortunately, this is not a provincial priority.

The Massey Bridge will be tolled. According to Christy Clark, the Alex Fraser Bridge will not be tolled. On the Port Mann/Highway 1 corridor, people shifted to the Pattullo Bridge to avoid the toll. In January 2006, average weekday traffic volume on the Port Mann was 119,313. In January 2015, the average weekday traffic volume was 96,900​. People will shift from the Highway 99 corridor to the Alex Fraser Bridge/Highway 91 corridor to avoid the Massey Bridge toll, making congestion even worse for people in Surrey and North Delta.

Investing in improving walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure is the only way to give people a way out of congestion. Sadly, the provincial government is more interested in building a mega-bridge than actually improving the transportation network in Metro Vancouver. The real irony will be if the province keeps the name "Massey Bridge" as George Massey himself thought that a bridge was a terrible idea.

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