Environment Canada is
calling for more studies about predicted air quality
impacts of the Gateway project, which includes the
planned twinning of the Port Mann Bridge (above).
The $1.7-billion freeway widening and twinning of the Port Mann Bridge is nearing the end of an environmental assessment that has seen a wide range of agency and public responses.
Environment Canada, in its submission, warns the project will “contribute to some deterioration of air quality” and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal department is calling for more study as part of its recommendations.
In particular, it says the province is underestimating the increase in traffic flows that will result from expanding the freeway.
New highway capacity generally increases the number of vehicles on the road, federal officials say, but argue Gateway’s projections don’t adequately take into account the project’s effect of fuelling sprawl and car use.
Federal officials expect general gains in air quality nation-wide due to reduced vehicle emissions through a combination of cleaner fuels and better efficiency.
But they caution that the project would “reverse a portion of the improvements” that should happen in the Lower Mainland. They call for a search for options to “avoid such backsliding.”
Environment Canada also questions whether the province underestimates the risk of cancers and other health impacts on people within one kilometre of the highway.
The feds also say they don’t see enough proof of Victoria’s claims the Highway 1 project will ease traffic congestion on other parallel routes and the resulting air pollution there.
Gateway environmental program manager Robin Taylor has tabled a response, rejecting several of the Environment Canada claims.
The province argues air emissions from traffic along Highway 1 will decrease through improving standards between now and 2021.
“Total airshed emissions should not change significantly,” Taylor added.
He also notes plans to toll the Port Mann Bridge and extend HOV lanes to Langley will also help cut emissions.
On other fronts, Taylor said, the province is adjusting its submission or considering further improvements, such as a requirement that heavy equipment not idle unnecessarily during construction.
Taylor calls another Environment Canada suggestion to create a Low Emission Zone for the region “an interesting idea” but beyond the mandate of the environmental assessment.
Anti-Gateway groups have pounced on the federal submissions, arguing the freeway expansion runs counter to the province’s new “LiveSmart” commitments to rein in sprawl through denser urban housing.
“Expanding freeways well before fixing our transit system gives the public and the development industry a strong signal that car travel and car-oriented development is king,” said Livable Region Coalition coordinator David Fields.
Critics consider the environmental assessment a sham process that will see the project approved no matter what problems are uncovered.
Construction is slated to start later this year and be complete by 2013.