By R. BRUCE STRIEGLER
In 2003, the Province of British Columbia established the Gateway Program in response to growing regional congestion. The program’s goals were to move people, goods and transit more efficiently while reducing congestion and travel times.
Building more highways and bridges
The improvements will reduce vehicle emissions by reducing congestion-related idling and to move high volumes of commuter and commercial traffic off community streets and back on regional roads.
A number of components make up the program. The largest is the Port Mann / Highway 1 Project, which includes widening approximately 37 kilometres of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) from Vancouver to Langley along with widened interchanges and the addition of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. The project’s centrepiece is the construction of a new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge. The new lanes will allow public transit service over the bridge, the first since congestion made transit unreliable over twenty years ago.
The Gateway Program faced opposition, with groups calling for expanded public transit rather than more highways. Burnaby and Vancouver city councils and the directors of Metro Vancouver’s forerunner, the Greater Vancouver Regional District, passed resolutions opposing the highway expansion.
Improving transportation on both sides of the Fraser River
The second-largest component is the South Fraser Perimeter Road Project. Due for completion in late 2013, this new four-lane route along the south shore of the Fraser River will provide continuous and efficient road access to port facilities, rail yards and industrial areas, and will reduce commuter congestion.
Several other parts of the Gateway Program that have either already been implemented, or have been proposed, aim to improve travel on the north side of the Fraser River. This includes upgrades of existing roads to provide a continuous route from New Westminster to Maple Ridge. Stand-alone parts of the Gateway Program included the 2009 replacement of two aging swing bridges on the Pitt River with a new cable-stayed bridge, with three lanes westbound and four lanes eastbound. The work includes an improved interchange at a high-volume location called the Mary Hill Bypass.
Metro Vancouver, one of the world’s most livable regions
Cited by travel and business experts as one the world’s most livable regions, Metro Vancouver covers 2,877 square kilometres, is home to 21 municipalities and 2.3 million people. Confined by the U.S. / Canadian border to the south, the Coast Mountains to the north and Georgia Strait to the west, it is located at the mouth of B.C.’s 1,375 kilometre-long Fraser River.
Metro Vancouver has experienced significant growth in the past two decades. Its livability has been threatened by a number of factors, including inadequate public transportation and costly traffic congestion. As Canada’s western gateway to Asia Pacific markets, Port Metro Vancouver – Canada’s largest seaport – has operations stretching along 600 kilometres of shoreline in the region, with plans to expand.
Metro Vancouver council, made up of elected representatives from the 21 individual municipalities, plans and delivers core services such as drinking water, sewage and regional parks. Public transportation is provided through an autonomous authority, TransLink, whose mission is to connect the region and enhance its livability by providing a sustainable transportation network.
A problem of revenue
TransLink’s funding – derived from its share of the fuel tax, parking taxes, transit fares and a portion of property taxes collected in each region’s municipalities – has not kept pace with current needs. Capacity expansion has been slowed due to funding challenges.
Moving into 2012, TransLink announced it does not have sufficient revenue to meet its ambitions for improved public transportation services. It is budgeted to spend $70 million but can only raise $40 million. The shortfall may have to be made up from increased property taxes and increased user fares.
In late February, news of a radical new proposal became public. Outlined in a confidential report entitled “Evaluation of Revenue Sources to Support Transportation Improvements in Metro Vancouver”, the report details a comprehensive road pricing proposal that, if adopted, would impose tolls to drive almost anywhere in Metro Vancouver. The proposals cover a wide range of potential revenue sources that include increased fuel and carbon taxes, property taxes, development fees and more fare hikes, as well as stiff new or additional levies on everything from parking to business payrolls, car rentals, hotel rooms and goods transported around the region.