I made my second run for the Green Party in last spring's
provincial election for two main reasons: gambling expansion (which
both the Liberals and NDP support) and the Port Mann Bridge/freeway
widening project (supported by both the Liberals and the NDP a year
ago, but the NDP has backed away from it a bit).
I regard stopping the Port Mann project as a survival issue. I
grew up in the eastern U.S., and witnessed the degradation of quality
of life resulting from the construction of One Big Freeway from
Boston to Petersburg, VA. I also spend a lot of time in the Seattle
area, which is a monument to the futility of using paving as a method
of dealing with traffic congestion.
I've been involved with the Livable
Region Coalition since its inception, and I attended a public
forum that they organized in Surrey in October. It was interesting and
well-attended, but, unfortunately, unconvincing to those in the
audience who depend on commuting across the Fraser River in order to
earn a living.
The message I heard from these people is, “we have a serious
traffic congestion problem, and we need a solution to it now.”
OK, I heard you. Now, let's get real. Even if construction on the
Port Mann project started tomorrow, it would take at least five years
to complete it, so it's not a “now” solution anyway. And here's a
couple of other things to consider. During the course of that
five-year construction period, there will be constant lane closures
and detours. Conjure up an image of what the Cape Horn interchange
will look like during this period. If it's a short-term solution that
you want, the Port Mann/freeway expansion project will make things
worse. Then, take a look at how much your last tank of gas cost you.
What do you think a litre of gasoline will cost in 2011?
Another complaint I heard at the Surrey forum was about a massive
traffic jam that had taken place a couple of days earlier, a result of an
accident on the Port Mann Bridge during rush hours. I contend that if
you want to solve this problem, the last thing you want to do is put
more eggs into the Port Mann Bridge basket. It would be far better to
provide some alternative ways of getting across the river.
There's already one alternative on the drawing board: the Golden
Ears Bridge that will connect Fort Langley and Maple Ridge. The
people of Surrey and Langley need at least one more, and the one I'll
put up for discussion is a bridge that already connects New
Westminster and Surrey; the bridge that the Skytrain runs on.
This bridge is capable of carrying far more trains than it does
now. What we need is a fast, convenient way for people in Surrey and
Langley to get to it.
I was in Portland recently, and rode the MAX train several times.
The Portland suburbs that the Hillsboro line travels through are
similar in a lot of respects to Surrey and Langley, but the
similarity that matters is that a grade-level (as opposed to elevated
or underground) system would work.
Portland's MAX train
There are already railroad rights-of-way that connect the Scott
Road Skytrain station to Port Kells, Clayton, Cloverdale, Langley
City, and Abbotsford. A complete replacement of the trackage, in
addition to stations and overhead wires, would be required to run
MAX-style light rail on this route.
How much would this cost? Let's find out, but it's certain that the
billion dollars which the government proposes to spend on the Port
Mann/freeway expansion project would be substantially more than a
down payment. Both the federal and provincial governments are getting
windfalls from gasoline taxes, and it's entirely sensible to spend
this money on projects that reduce our dependence on gasoline.
What I'm proposing here should be classified as “mainstream”.
Much of the route was used by the Interurban trains that ran from New
Westminster to Chilliwack from 1910 to 1950. The Vancouver Sun
ran a two-page article last winter about existing trackage in the
Fraser Valley, accompanied by speculation about how it could be put
into service for commuter rail.
There's another benefit, beyond the reduction in air pollution and
noise, in building a light rail solution now instead of later. Urban
sprawl is a bad thing, and all you have to do is travel south on
200th Street in Langley to see that the shopping malls are
popping up already. Transit stations invite density; they can become
areas where people can live, and have schools, stores, and
restaurants within walking distance. Now, how can developers and city
planners make mini-communities like this happen, if nobody is going
to know where the transit stations are for another 15 or 20 years?
Surrey and Langley will be much better places to live in the future
if sensible development decisions are made now.
What needs to happen now is for local governments, the GVRD, and
the Ministry of Transportation and Highways to take a greater
interest in this. In particular, MoTH should put some of their
bureaucrats to work pricing out alternatives to the Port Mann project
such as this one. To get this happening, ask Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell if they really want
to be remembered for wasting a billion dollars on a highway project
that will be obsolete before it's completed.