By David Schreck
Published: February 1, 2006
The headline on the government's news release reads: "Premier Launches Gateway Transportation Program". "Launches" is a bit of an exaggeration given the history of the Gateway Program. Those whose memories go back over the last 15 years will recall that the components of the Gateway Plan were pet projects advocated by Glen Clark, although the Harcourt government was less enthusiastic.
The issues are what the completion dates will be and precisely what will be delivered by those dates. It appears that the Campbell government has abandoned the Livable Region Plan and wants to increase supply rather than rely on demand management strategies; it has accepted reliance on the private, single-occupant automobile, SUV or "passenger-truck".
The covering letter on the 1993 report of the "Transport 2021" steering committee was addressed to Art Charbonneau, then Minister of Transportation and Gordon Campbell, then GVRD chairperson. The executive summary to that report stated:
"Certain roads intended as long-haul links with other parts of the Province - such as the Trans Canada Highway between the Port Mann Bridge and Chilliwack - are encouraging urban sprawl and are losing their function for long-haul traffic."
"The solution to this problem is to reverse past practice and limit all single-occupant long-haul commuting from the valley towns, e.g. through deterrent tolls or traffic lights at on-ramps."
No studies, no maps
The news release for the latest incarnation of the Gateway Program says that Premier Gordon Campbell unveiled a comprehensive $3-billion plan. Isn't it interesting how governments can put precise price tags on mega-projects when they can't produce a single engineering study or map that shows what changes will be made at the ends of the Port Mann Bridge, whose homes will be confiscated to build the project and which neighbourhoods will be affected.
The government handled that challenge on the Sea-to-Sky improvement project by offering a fixed price and asking contractors what they could build for the specified cost. That can work when the specified cost exceeds the minimum required for the project, but if the budget proves inadequate, either it has to be increased or the tolls have to be increased. The trial balloon suggests a toll of $2.50; media reports indicate that is one way, not round trip. What will happen to those without transponders who obscure their license plates with devices designed to foil red light cameras? Details like that should be flushed out before contracts are let and construction begins.
Still years off
If anyone thinks the "launch" is a sign that the project is any closer to completion than it was as a gleam in Glen Clark's eye, notice that it begins with 18 months of community consultation. That will take us to July 2007, less than two years from the May 2009 provincial election. Unless the engineering work happens concurrently with the public consultation, something that would expose the consultation as a sham, it could easily take another two years before rough costs could be estimated.
Stay tuned for opponents of freeways to object on principle to any plan that favors automobiles over transit. Those opponents might strengthen their opposition by simply asking for the details that are not available on the new Gateway Program website, where clicking on the link for Port Mann Bridge Reports produces the note "[coming soon …]".
Political analyst David Schreck publishes the online journal Strategic Thoughts where a version of this appeared.