COLUMN: Premier has tunnel vision

Christy Clark has identified a need and is working to do something about it – good news for the population south of the Fraser River.

Premier Christy Clark’s pledge to replace the George Massey Tunnel with a bridge was the biggest news to come out of the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, and the new bridge will have a major impact on Delta, Surrey and White Rock.

Clark said construction will begin in 2017, which (not by coincidence) is an election year. The Liberals would dearly like to win back the Delta-South seat, which independent MLA Vicki Huntington has now won twice.

But the bridge is not tied to an election as much as it is the latest in a series of replacements of aging major river and lake crossings. The biggest one, of course, is the new Port Mann Bridge, but there is also the Pitt River Bridge, the W.R. Bennett Bridge in Kelowna, and the Kicking Horse bridge east of Golden on Highway 1.

In doing so, the Liberals have positioned themselves as builders of infrastructure on a scale comparable to that done by premiers W.A.C. Bennett and Bill Bennett. This has always been popular in B.C. and serves to position the province for future growth.

In the case of the Deas Island crossing, a new bridge would serve a number of purposes. It would ease congestion in the tunnel. It would eliminate the need for seismic upgrades. Perhaps most importantly, it would make it possible for larger ships with deeper drafts to come up the Fraser River and use Fraser Surrey Docks, which are under-utilized. Ships are getting larger and larger and a deep river channel is vital in attracting new business.

There are many legitimate concerns. One is that the bridge will funnel too much traffic onto crossings further north, such as the Oak Street and Knight Street bridges. The Oak Street Bridge was built at the same time as the tunnel, and is also a candidate for replacement. The Knight Street is newer, but both it and the Oak Street span are already heavily congested at rush hour.

Another concern is the strong possibility that the new bridge will be tolled. While tolls are a legitimate way to pay for new infrastructure, there does need to be a fairer way to levy them. Many mayors, such as Surrey’s Dianne Watts, have suggested regional tolling, with a much smaller fee of 50 cents or $1 to cross all major river  crossings. Road pricing has also been mentioned.

Some planners complain there is little discussion of how transit fits into the new bridge. They also question this announcement, in the light of the fact that there is a stalemate on TransLink funding and expansion of the transit system.

They are ignoring politics. Premiers often make major announcements at the UBCM convention. There will be plenty of discussion about TransLink in the coming months, as there is more dialogue about a referendum which is scheduled to take place next year.

It is important that farmland in Richmond and Delta is not impacted by the new bridge, but given that it is replacing a tunnel, that should be easy to achieve.

The premier has identified a need and is working to do something about it. That’s good news for the fast-growing population south of the Fraser River.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

Just Posted

Surrey firefighters not among 267 being sent to battle Alberta wildfires

‘We haven’t been called upon to be deployed,’ Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis told the Now-Leader on Tuesday

Surrey man charged with impersonating cop in Newton

Harmit Johal, 42, is charged with one count of impersonating a peace officer and two counts of fraud

Man pleads guilty to Surrey crash that killed two Abbotsford women

Sarah Dhillon and Paige Nagata died following head-on collision on Nov. 4, 2018

Mother of accused charged in connection to Surrey teen’s murder

Manjit Kaur Deo charged with ‘accessory after the fact’ in 2017 death of Bhavkiran Dhesi

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Raptors beat Bucks 120-102 to even series at 2-2

Lowry pours in 25 as Toronto moves within two games of NBA Finals

Body of missing snowmobiler recovered from Great Slave Lake

Police confirm the body is that of one of three missing snowmobilers

Toddler seriously injured after falling from Okanagan balcony

RCMP are investigating after a two-year-old boy fell from the balcony of an apartment in Kelowna

Fraser Valley chef sentenced to seven years for million-dollar drug operation

Raymon Ranu has been working as a cook since he was arrested for selling fentanyl and cocaine

Cost jumps 35% for Trans-Canada Highway widening in B.C.

Revelstoke-area stretch first awarded under new union deal

Is vegan food a human right? Ontario firefighter battling B.C. blaze argues it is

Adam Knauff says he had to go hungry some days because there was no vegan food

Winds helping in battle against fire threatening northern Alberta town

Nearly 5,000 people have cleared out of High Level and nearby First Nation

Most Read