This year, a consultant hired by the B.C. government is exploring the costs and benefits of a fixed link – a highway, perhaps with bridges – between the Lower Sunshine Coast and Highway 99 — because if it can be justified, a road connection would allow BC Ferries to do away with the money-losing Langdale to Horseshoe Bay ferry run and use the vessel elsewhere in the system.

Only two routes in the entire BC ferry system are profitable: Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria) and Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay (Nanaimo).

Three of the money-losing routes are relevant to this discussion:  Langdale, Saltery Bay and Comox. Langdale makes enough to cover its operating expenses, but by the time depreciation and interest are factored in, it’s a loser ($4 million in 2015).  Saltery Bay and Comox each lost $11 million.

The proposals under consideration

Two Howe Sound options have been put forward as a means of eliminating the Langdale ferry. The Third Crossing proposal (see map, below) is relevant to the discussion because it would allow the government to also eliminate the Saltery Bay to Earls Cove run, and boost both traffic and revenue on the Comox run, because Comox would then connect with the rest of the province by way of the new highway out of Powell River – not south via the losing Saltery Bay – Earls Cove run, but east over to Highway 99.

The third crossing is different than the others.  It does more. It’s a trans-provincial, east/west connection that joins the central interior to the coastal communities and opens up what has always been one of the most isolated areas in B.C.  This has vast implications for all of British Columbia.  The details are well explained in the Overview.  Click here.  The bonus is that our proposed highway also connects to the Lower Mainland.

The First Howe Sound option calls for a new highway along the west shore from Port Mellon to Woodfibre and Squamish, where traffic from the Sunshine Coast would proceed either north up Highway 99 or south to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver.  The cost of this option is estimated at from $200- to $300-million. (See map, below.)

Like the first, the second Howe Sound option entails a new highway from Port Mellon up the west shore to either Woodfibre or where the channel between the highway and Anvil Island is at its narrowest, and there, a pair of bridges would span Howe Sound to Highway 99, at a point just north of Brunswick Beach.

We are told that this second option could be twice as expensive as the first, but take half as long for those travelling from the Lower Sunshine to Horseshoe Bay (slightly longer for those traveling to the Lower Sunshine Coast from north of Squamish).

We understand that a third option, bridging the Sound by way of Bowen Island, has also been put forward.

So what about these options

The Third Crossing route is by far the most visionary proposal. The Howe Sound options merely shift existing traffic from the ferry system to a new highway.

The third crossing would directly connect interior and coastal communities; open a new area of the province that has only been accessible by water and air until now; and eliminate the need for the Saltery Bay to Earls Cove run and its $11 million subsidy – no small consideration, because the Island Sky, too, could be redeployed elsewhere in the system.

However, our third crossing doesn’t provide highway access to the Lower Sunshine Coast, and therefore lacks any basis for eliminating the Langdale ferry, so one of the Howe Sound options should go ahead. The pending Government study will suggest which it should be, all things considered.

Elimination of the Langdale ferry is the key to a vast array of opportunities to create economies at BC Ferries, and it is these economies that will generate the funds that will pay for a significant portion of the recommended highways – both on Howe Sound and the upper coast.

While it is true that the loss on the Langdale ferry is “only” $4 million a year, the real benefit of eliminating it will be to ease marine-side and shore-side congestion at Horseshoe Bay. The redeployment of the Langdale ferry to other runs yields additional benefits.

Our rough calculations indicate that the savings to BC Ferries of that move, plus federal cost sharing and a toll on the new highways, would cover the vast majority of both the capital and maintenance costs of the proposed roads (see summary calculations below). BC Ferries wins, our communities win, our people win and our Governments win.

These proposals thus deserve a full and fair assessment.

Summary of economies to B C Ferries

Economies accruing to BC Ferries that will offset the costs of these proposals need to be carefully evaluated. Such evaluation is properly the work of BC Ferries and the Provincial Government. It is well beyond the scope of our responsibilities. Nevertheless, we have made some estimates to determine that our suggested solutions are not unreasonable. Here they are:

  1. Avoided expenditures to relieve shore side congestion at Horseshoe Bay.  Using BC Ferries’ own number, $200 million.
  2. Stopping the $4 million annual operating loss on the Langdale route.  We have valued this saving as about $40 million over a period of ten years.
  3. The Queen of Surrey could be redeployed from Langdale to increase capacity on the Departure Bay run in the peak season and relieve congestion on that run and at the Horseshoe Bay terminal. This should mean that the purchase of an additional vessel can be deferred for some years, at a saving that could be very large – possibly even $100 million.
  4. The Third Crossing will divert traffic from the Departure Bay run to the Comox run, thereby further reducing congestion at Horseshoe Bay and increasing ridership at Comox. We estimate that this will produce an annual profit of $5 million from the Comox run or $50 million over ten years.
  5. It may be that demand for a reduced or substitute service from Langdale, Earls Cove and Saltery Bay — that makes business sense — will be determined.  But the need for terminal facilities would be reduced significantly.   We will consult with real estate experts, but in the meantime, the saving from not having to undertake that expenditure could be in the order of $25 million.
  6. The Island Sky can be redeployed at an estimated saving of $40 million.

 

Using conservative estimates, our total savings have reached $455 million and we’re still counting.   Add the customary federal contribution of one third for such projects, and on a projected billion dollar outlay, that amounts to $333 million.   We have thus found $788 million, or nearly 79 per cent of the total projected outlay, and this is still only a rough calculation.

Conclusion:  We submit that undertaking both the Howe Sound and Third Crossing projects would yield considerable savings, and value, to the provincial economy.