Perimeter Route to the Rescue
road to nowhere: Economic shift may make South Fraser connector redundant
Even though preliminary work on the $1.1-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road is well under way — already carving up farmland, destroying homes and disrupting neighbourhoods and wilderness areas in Delta and Surrey — its opponents refuse to give up.
In stronger voices they’re asking: Why is this 40-kilometre, four-lane truck freeway being built?
BulldozedthroughbytheCampbell government despite staunch local opposition, the freeway’s primary purpose is to provide a new container-truck link between Deltaport and Hwy. 1. Proponents also say it will improve general traffic flows south of the Fraser.
However, that rationale is becoming increasingly dubious, especially against a backdrop of the slowing global economy — which is also changing structurally — together with rising costs in high-priority items on the home front, such as health care.
These types of concerns were expressed Saturday when the South Fraser Action Network held a town-hall meeting in Ladner and talked about the project’s many social, environmental and economic impacts.
“No, it’s not too late to stop the SFPR, because the major contracts have not been let and only the pre-load is being done,” meeting organizer Inger Kam told me.
Because the SFPR route goes through some of the Lower Mainland’s softest boglands, huge amounts of sand must be preloaded onto the site, where it can take several years to compact and prepare the underlying ground for construction.
“There is nothing done so far that is not reversible,” says Vancouver-based transportation economist Stephen Rees, a graduate of the London School of Economics and one of the keynote speakers Saturday.
“When this road was planned, the world was a different place,” he says. “The recent worldwide recession has created huge amounts of excess shipping capacity at west-coast North American ports.
“In my view, this is not a minor blip — and the probability that we’ll see a resurgence in northPacific container shipping is slim and none.”
In fact, Rees says even if that were to happen, more Asian container traffic bound for the North American east coast will soon be routed through the Panama Canal, where deepening and widening to accommodate larger ships will be completed by about 2014.
“It also seems likely that most of the Arctic Ocean will soon be icefree, which gives shippers another route,” he adds. “So if you put all these things together, why are we building this road?”
Another speaker, transportation planning consultant Eric Doherty, says there are many examples in the U.S. and elsewhere of partially completed freeway projects being stopped due to public opposition and budget constraints.
“Those two factors come up time and again in U.S. examples, and now we have them here with the SFPR,” he adds.
Doherty also says it makes more sense to electrify the existing rail system that serves Deltaport to reduce pollution, rather than expand the diesel trucking fleet. Barges on the Fraser River could also be utilized.
“I think the entire road is intellectually dishonest, especially when there are good alternatives to it,” notes independent South Delta MLA Vicki Huntington, whose upset win in that riding last spring was due to voter dissatisfaction with Victoria.
“Obviously, big business and a powerful trucking lobby run this province, not the people,” she adds.