Mid-Province Highway An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Three of every four British Columbians live within a few kilometres of the American border.  From Victoria and Vancouver to Cranbrook and the Alberta border, this population is well served in all directions by the well known highways and ferries that together form the first crossing of our province.

Moving north, though, we come to no fully trans-provincial crossing for 500 kilometres, until the second, the resource belt along Highway 16, stretching east to Alberta and west to Prince George and Prince Rupert.

Our Society contends that there ought to be a third crossing, to serve the 20 per cent of our population who live between the northern resource belt and the heavily populated southern regions — not to mention others who travel mid-province.

In late October, the Transportation Ministry and Binnie & Associates, the consulting engineers hired to study the costs and benefits of “fixed links” (roads and-or bridges) between the Sunshine Coasts and Highway 99, held open houses in Squamish, West Vancouver, Sechelt and Powell River to receive public input on eight possible fixed links, including several around or across Howe Sound, and the Third Crossing proposal around the end of Jervis Inlet.

The Society supports the third crossing route and whichever of the lower coast options the government deems appropriate — indeed, if any decision to proceed is made, one of the lower coast options will be approved.  For our part, we submit that the third crossing should be part of the package, because it would connect the central interior to the central coast and pave the way for stronger local economies at our mid-latitudes.  Best of all, though, both roads can be financed from savings in the operation of BC Ferries, plus a modest toll if need be.  For the population figures, click here.  For the communities, click here.  For potential savings at BC Ferries, click here.

Province_map

Click on image to enlarge.

As matters now stand, the Trans-Canada Highway from Alberta and the Kootenays does an excellent job of connecting Kamloops and Cache Creek with points south, while feeder highways serve traffic from the Okanagan, north Thompson and the Cariboo.

Similarly, Highway 99 now takes the more adventurous driver south by way of Cache Creek, Lillooet, Whistler and Squamish – but instead of continuing west, it keeps going south to Vancouver.

We of the Third Crossing Society submit that adding a highway that turns west to the Pacific starting just south of Whistler (see second map, below) would add a new dimension to our province, and breathe new life into the local economies of both the north half of Vancouver Island and the vast area just north of the Lower Mainland.  It would also create a new playground for tourists and new havens for winter-weary retirees from across Canada, while easing congestion on Vancouver’s highways, at its ferry terminals, and perhaps eventually in its port.

Economically, the beauty of this new crossing is that most of its components are already in place: the island highway system; the under-utilized ferry between Comox and Powell River; Highway 99, and most intriguing, about 170 kilometres of forest roads – reaching toward each other but not yet touching – from Highway 99 on the east and Highway 101 on the west.  To connect them — and the coast to the rest of the province without the bottleneck at Horseshoe Bay — would require only 42 kilometres of new road.

Moving from east to west, the segments of the new route measure as follows:

Existing logging roads – east side                    47.9 km        47.9

New road to Casement Mountain                   11.1 km        59.0

Tunnel through Casement Mountain             3.2 km           62.2

New road to Jervis Inlet logging roads          9.3 km            71.5

Existing Jervis Inlet logging roads              21.3 km           92.8

New road over the Lausman Pass                 18.4 km          111.2

Existing logging roads – west side                  65.4 km        172.6

In summary:

Existing logging roads                                      130.6 km

New roads                                                            42.0 km

People who have seen the majesty of the scenery west of Highway 99 often make the mistake of thinking that a highway through it would be too high, too steep, too winding, or too snow-bound — none of which has any basis in fact.  For example, there is no point on the proposed route higher than the existing passes on our existing highways – none!  For the facts and a closer look at the road, click here.

A three-kilometre tunnel is proposed because at roughly the cost of a bridge, it makes more sense than the alternative, 18 kilometres of high elevation road and ongoing snow removal costs.  And all other things being equal, statistically the motoring public is somewhat safer in a tunnel than on the highway.  Our consultations with senior international tunneling engineers strongly suggest this tunnel would be both affordable and appropriate. For expert information about tunnels click here and here.

Our construction estimate of $500- to $600 million is approximate – there is no way it can be more precise without more detailed research. To see how we came up with it, click here.

Whatever the final cost turns out to be, there will be immediate offsetting savings that would accrue to BC Ferries. Watch this space for a supporting study, in progress but not yet complete. Additionally, as with the Coquihalla, there will be offsets from tolls and federal cost sharing. We anticipate that ultimately, the cost of this road to our provincial government will be zero.  We are in the process of documenting this fact.

We have growing support from regional districts, cities, First Nations and other organizations and corporations. We continue to grow that support. To see the existing letters of support click here.

Our study to date proves that the road can be built. Any construction or maintenance issues are commonplace. The cost is acceptable.  (To see the comparable costs of other projects, Click here.) The funding needs are offset by savings, tolls and federal contributions. (Click here and scroll down to “Benefits Identified and Quantified — offsets”.)

We will make compelling presentations to the highest levels of government and we will continue to build our case over the next year. The generosity of several organizations, individuals and corporations will ensure that we have adequate finances to enable us to execute our program. We will also improve access to the more remote sections of the road to enable others to see for themselves that this road can become a reality.

Below: This photo was taken from a helicopter flying just above the Powell River Divide.  It shows the Lausman River Valley leading down to Jervis Inlet.  About 18 km of new road would be required between the old D Branch logging road east of the Eldred River and a point part way down this valley where it would pick up another old logging road.

 

This view from the east side of the Lausman Pass was taken from the air. From the head of Jervis Inlet (middle distance), the route bends to the right, leaving the snowcapped mountains in the background to the left of the route.