Former premier says bridge is a bad idea

Mike Harcourt contends a $1.7-billion dual tunnel would come in at less than half the cost

The bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel is an unsustainable, not to mention expensive, idea. The estimated $3.5-billion cost will probably be closer to $4.7-billion when all the bills come in.

According to an Oxford University study, bridges internationally over the last 50 years have averaged a 35 per cent cost overrun. Look at our recent massive cost overruns and ongoing subsidies for the Port Mann Bridge.

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Fortunately, there is a $1.7-billion dual Massey Tunnel alternative. Not only is it at least half the cost there are other advantages: Continuous use of existing tunnel, and the option to keep it open; Less intrusion on precious agricultural lands; Less impact on critical migratory bird habitat; More compatible with other modes of travel, like transit, pedestrian and bikes; Less seismic vulnerability; Faster to design and build; Better year-round travel (fewer winter issues); Less impact on the south arm of the Fraser River, and no dredging or scouring that would negatively impact the greatest salmon habitat in the world.

If that's not enough, the other big problem is that a stand-alone toll bridge proposal by the provincial government would just shift the traffic congestion to the toll-less Alex Fraser Bridge and the Oak Street and Knight Street toll-less bridges.

Sound like the Port Mann/Pattullo debacle all over again? One cannot say because no one has done a scoping study. Rather odd that someone would have suggested long ago doing a twin-tunnel and now we find ourselves with a rush decision to go for a bridge.

These are some of the reasons that all Greater Vancouver mayors, save one, oppose the present bridge proposal.

But as with the Port Mann Bridge, the province is proceeding unilaterally, without proper consultation with the mayors.

The over-arching problem with the stand-alone, unilaterally-imposed bridge proposal is it's not part of a longer-term vision and transportation plan for Greater Vancouver. We have 2.5 million people now and two million more other Canadians and immigrants are expected in Greater Vancouver over the next 50 years. How does the bridge address that challenge? Not in any coherent, demonstrable way.

Vancouver's robust economy will continue to attract people. However, transportation congestion, bottlenecks, unaffordable housing, childcare, postsecondary education tuition and costs are harming our economic future.

These ad hoc, unilateral, provinciallyimposed transportation projects such as the bridge proposed to replace the tunnel are a bad way to address these challenges, a bad way to govern.

The Massey Tunnel alternative should be part of a 20-year bridge replacement plan, starting with the Pattullo Bridge, which should be replaced immediately.

Then we need to replace the Queensborough, Knight Street, Oak Street, Lions Gate and Second Narrows bridges and, by the way, include transit provisions and unitary pricing for all bridges or tunnels so we use a bridge not because it is old and free, but because it is where we need to go.

Have modest tolls on all of them, directed by provincial legislation to be used only for transportation improvements in Greater Vancouver. This way, we finally introduce the user pay model and reduce the current drag on the province-wide financial means.

The $4.7-billion bridge proposal should not go ahead. Instead, the $1.7 billion dual tunnel idea should be built, together with a unitary tolling system. Let's get moving! Mike Harcourt is a former mayor of Vancouver and premier of B.C.

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