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The Province’s obsession with highway building and how it won’t help Surrey

George Massey Tunnel Entrance

One of the things that has been frustrating me lately is the Province’s idea of the transportation system priorities in Metro Vancouver. It seems that transportation planning at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) has entered back into a 1950’s-style freeway building frenzy. Not even waiting for the final asphalt to be poured on the $3 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 project, the Province is already looking to replace the Massey Tunnel. The irony of this is not lost on me as the MoTI has spent the last several years building bus-only lanes and other priority traffic measures along the Highway 99 corridor based on a 2009 report.

Based on projected land use changes it is expected that travel demand on the Highway 99 corridor will increase 36% by 2021 and another 50% from 2021 to 2031. Given that there are no current plans to expand the capacity of the Highway it is unlikely that such growth could occur without a major shift to the transit mode.

It is interesting to note that although the numbers of buses on the corridor represent less than 1% of the vehicular demand, the person demand accommodated by buses on the highway ranges from 17% to 26%.

Up until this year, the MoTI and TransLink were successfully working towards prioritizing transit on the Highway 99 corridor. In fact, I was at a recent consultation with Port Metro Vancouver and they admitted to me that the Massey Tunnel replacement would do little to improve logistics for the Port.

While the Province makes up excuses about why the next freeway needs to be replaced or built, I have to wonder if it’s just another case of BC Blacktop Politics and the result of the BC Liberals’ connection to the road builders. Back in 2010 John Schnablegger, a planner at the MoTI, told me that the between 2014 and 2021 the MoTI would be out of the road building business in Metro Vancouver and would be focusing on delivering sustainable transportation improvements in the region. I guess that is no longer the case.

What could have been… From presentation by MoTI at UFV in January 2008

While all this freeway building has been going forward, TransLink (let’s not kid ourselves here, it is controlled by the Province) doesn’t even have the money to expand bus service. Expanding rapid transit is now a pipe-dream in Surrey. The Province has spent close to $4.2 billion between the Port Mann/Highway 1, South Fraser Perimeter Road, Highway 15, and Highway 10 projects building a freeway ring around Surrey. The irony is that all this unrestricted highway spending will do little to help the 70% of trips that go between points within Surrey.

The City of Surrey has plans for modest road expansion, but is actively working on shifting people to sustainable forms of transportation because they simply could not build enough roads to meet the transportation demands of the community if everyone drove. Knowing these facts, you’d think the Province would be investing in rapid transit for Surrey which could actually help the 70% of internal trips by giving people transportation choice and a way out of congestion, but the Province has not spent a dime on rapid transit for Surrey since 1994. The Province is actually working counter to modern transportation theory and the City of Surrey which is trying to prioritize other forms of transportation. The Province has instead chosen to build billions of dollars worth of freeways even though not one growing region in the world has been able to build their way out of congestion. I think the final insult for Surrey residents is the fact that the new express bus between Langley and Braid SkyTrain will not even stop in Surrey.

I do not understand how the Province has been allowed to get away with spending billions on highways that could only help 30% of trips to/from Surrey while not spending a penny on rapid transit within Surrey to help 70% of trips. When will we actually get on with building a sustainable transportation system in Surrey that will actually help the majority of resident in the community find a way out of congestion and give people transportation choice?


  1. Tim

    Remember that presenter from the MOTI that said to out Transportation Lecture series class that after the Port Mann and SFPR are done they will “be out of the road project phase and building transit instead”. What a joke. What a farce!

  2. Kevin

    Diane Watts for Premier!!!

  3. The day I see a politician riding transit I will know there is hope in sight, but not until. When TRANSLINK was first formed I challenged Vancouver Councillor George Puil to park his car and use transit for just 1 month. I explained to him I felt he would learn more about transit in that month than commissioning a hundred reports. His reaction? He laughed. When I asked him what was so funny he said “I couldn’t do that, I have places I have to be!” Let them eat cake -seems to be appropriate at this point in time.

  4. It is important to note that the transit modal share in the tunnel is on the low end the given interval. <19% in peak direction.

    in fact overall, it is not better than 11% (what is much below the target the province has fixed). and basically twice lower than what is on the Lion gate…

    In fact, if the tunnel had the same modal shift has the Lion gate bridge, you could almost remove one lane of traffic

    More is here:

  5. Jesse L Hausner

    The reason Hwy 1 was expanded wasn’t just for car traffic. Unfortunately we live our lives every day forgetting the backbone of how our society functions. Transportation of goods and services. The SFPR and Gateway Project will in the near term at least reduce congestion and shift how the transportation of goods is handled.

    Vancouver is moving away from industry and you’re finding more trucks and containers moving from the border to the industrial areas of Surrey/Richmond/Delta and with a shift of shipping focus to Robert’s Bank and Surrey Fraser Docks, with CN and the likes the SFPR will be a huge benefit ultimately for that backbone.

    We have to not forget this fact, a fact Vancouver seems to always forget in their transportation plans such as the tearing down of Viaducts. Trucks still need to deliver goods. The more difficult you make it, the more costly the transportation, the higher prices for retail goods go up.

    So we can’t completely ignore road infrastructure.

    That said, I do agree 100% that Surrey and the region in general keep getting the shaft from Translink and the Province when it comes to transit. Let’s face it though, our issue isn’t priorities or roads vs transit or what should be done first. Our issue is the issue Mayor Watts has harped on consistently for years.

    The Province and Translink need to sit down with regional Mayors and come up with a sound and sustainable funding source for transit. None of this pick pick pick pick pick at people with taxes. I think items like tolls and such can go a long way in assisting with transit (I see tolls on new major road infrastructure the same as fairs on SkyTrain, you need to pay something for the service). But people in the region and that includes those that don’t even drive, are hit with so many indirect taxes that it has driven up the cost of living even though we have less and less to show for it. Not to mention Translink for a long time has based a huge bulk of its source funding on car related taxes while trying to push for less cars.

    That alone has been a huge failure and they received a double slap in the face with the recent huge drops in fuel tax revenue. There becomes a breaking point when we’ve just all been taxed enough.

    We DO need to pay for service that’s clear. But I’d rather 1 or 2 sources total funding things instead of 35 little taxes everywhere. Parking tax, carbon tax, registration charges, tolls, proposed property taxes, fuel charges, and on and on it goes.

    We all, including those with blogs and larger voices in the debate, need to start chanting the same thing together. Fix your funding model! Fix your funding model! FIX YOUR FUNDING MODEL.

    They do that and we’ll be able to finally build what the region needs, transit and road infrastructure alike.

    • While I agree its about fixing the funding model, the public needs to accept that if we are going to improve transportation, we are going to have to pay for it. The notion that we can find efficiencies everywhere to pay for new infrastructure is absurd. Until that belief that “lower taxes = better services” is thrown out the window, politicians will continue to hesitate at raising or introducing new taxes/fees. Or politicians will just have to grow a backbone and do their jobs – lead.

  6. James

    “1950’s-style freeway building frenzy” ? Err… perhaps if you looked overseas you’d see that many countries have been building new roads to improve infrastructure, like the poorer-EU nations. Why is that? Because better infrastructure means better prosperity for the country.

    Also do the Canada Line and Evergreen Line not count as alternative transportation investments?

    Vancouver desperately NEEDS a better road network to handle the increased population. It is not acceptable that the only way to reach the middle of Surrey for example is to take Hwy 1 and then drive down through the traffic-light striken King George blvd, or crowded Scott Rd. If the south perimeter road was finished by now, a 30-40min journey would be a 5minute one.

    Please explain how that “won’t help Surrey” ? The economic benefits are obvious. With an HOV lane, taking the bus for the equivalent distance would be better too.

    That being said I do support alternative transit, for example they’ve been talking about a rail service between Langley and Surrey for years now, using the existing rail, but nothing has happened with that either, so I think many people feel any sort of infrastructure improvement in the Surrey / Langley area is doomed.