Bridge-Free Salish Sea

Troubled Water Over Gabriola Bridge Study

From the Gulf Islands Alliance:

The province is squandering up to $200,000 for a feasibility study on building a fixed link to join Gabriola to Vancouver Island.

One possible scenario would be a bridge from the Cedar area to Mudge Island and another from Mudge to Gabriola. Driving distance from Gabriola to downtown Nanaimo would be approximately 20 km.

The study is illfounded because it’s confined to comparing capital and operating costs of various link routes to continuing the existing ferry service.

A decision to actually construct the link would involve the much greater consideration of how it will radically change Gabriola’s social and economic landscape. Because high-volume transportation projects spur development, Gabriola and Mudge would likely evolve into commuter communities for Nanaimo.

“Islanders and non islanders alike recognize that such connections destroy the very essence of islands, something that, once lost, can never be restored,” Islands Trust Chair Sheila Malcolmson, a Gabriola resident, complained to the province in a letter.

Such a link would also weaken the role of Islands Trust, a unique form of local government created by the province to preserve and protect the beautiful Gulf Islands which include Mudge and Gabriola. A poll in 2011 showed that almost 90 percent of British Columbians favor the Trust vision to protect the islands.

Trust Council’s policy statement, along with official community plans for Gabriola and Mudge, doesn’t support building fixed links to other islands. Critics note that the same government that approved these policies is spending public money on a study that could lead to undermining them.

If the study’s findings encourage actual construction, questions about its impact on the natural environment, government credibility and community values would dominate what would surely become a bitter public debate. These big questions should have been considered first in an open public process before comparing bridge-versus-ferry costs.

In addition to responding to a petition by the Gabriola Bridge Society, GIA believes the motivation for the study is to deflect criticism of the government over BC Ferries policies and practices. A study by BC municipalities this fall shows that excessive ferry fare increases and service cuts in the last decade sucked $2.3 billion out of the coastal island communities economy and deprived the province of $231 million in potential tax revenues. Instead of abandoning its unfair user-pay objective for ferries, a goal not applied to highways and public transit, the government is floating the distracting alternative of building fixed links.

GIA suspects the terminal on Gabriola’s east side, to be closer to the Mainland, and ultimately a fixed link from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland. Among a half dozen possible routes, the least expensive would see Gabriola as a stepping stone between the Nanaimo area and Richmond.

The cost and engineering challenges to build a bridge or tunnel across Georgia Strait — they include its excessive length (up to 26 km), high volume freighter traffic, deep ocean, and earthquakes — make it an economic absurdity. At a currently estimated cost of a bridge at $12 billion, likely a wild underestimati

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