Four places where a Sunshine Coast-Lower Mainland connector could go
The provincial government is looking into a road connector between the Lower Mainland and the Sunshine Coast.
“We are into looking a fixed link,” confirmed Premier Christy Clark yesterday.
“It’s really preliminary, but we’re doing that work right now. It would certainly ease access for people, it would potentially lower the cost for BC Ferries as well, but it’s really early on.”
One of the many things that will have to be decided is the route of any connector. Here’s a look at four possibilities.
1. Through Bowen Island to Gibsons
The shortest, most direct route from Metro Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast would be from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons, with a bridge or tunnel broken up at Bowen Island and Keats Island.
But there are a number of reasons that would be unlikely.
“It would overwhelm traffic, and because of the elevation, there’s no way of building a four-lane highway,” argues Oddvin Vedo, a former Sunshine Coast economic development officer who has advocated for a fixed link via his blog.
Bowen Island Mayor Murray Skeels also feels it’s unlikely they would consider going through Bowen Island.
“I would think that some people would get quite excited, as in passionately excited one way or the other. Passions may flare. Some people would go absolutely crazy,” he said.
“We kind of like being an island. I don’t think that hooking us up to West Vancouver would go over well.”
2. Through Gambier Island to Williamson Landing
Vedo believes a bridge further north, connecting at Williamson Landing, just north of Langdale, would be more feasible because of the room to build a highway connector. But any route would likely have to go through Gambier Island, either from Lions Bay, or Horseshoe Bay via Bowen Island.
“You’re also looking at two deep sea tunnels, and lots of issues from Islands Trust,” says Vedo. “Gambier would probably be very much against the car traffic on their island.”
Kate-Louise Stamford, a Gambier Island Trustee for the Islands Trust, concurs.
“We have been very well aware if you were to draw a straight line across the Howe Sound, Gambier is in the middle, but when you look at the practicalities, Gambier is difficult to maneuver through,” she says.
Stamford notes that Gambier Island, which has a peak population of around 700 in the summertime, has no roads that go through the entire island because of the steep terrain. And the island’s Official Community Plan includes a statement saying they only support passenger ferry access.
“Geographically, it’s quite a difficult access point, and sociologically, the island flavour is we’re a rural area, we’d like to keep it rural. That’s the overarching vision,” she says.
3. From Porteau Cove
Vedo is championing the idea of a bridge from Porteau Cove Provincial Park, 20 kilometres north of Horseshoe Bay.
“You can build a bridge, which would be the cheapest one, and you have the elevation on the Sea-to-Sky side to start which would make it 65 metres high, which would allow any sized ship going to Woodfibre and Squamish to pass under,” he argues.
Vedo says that area of the Howe Sound is much shallower.
“The solution at Porteau Cove area is much less costly, and easier. You’d have to build a [new] highway…but that’s quite simple with a couple of bridges and level tunnels.”
4. A highway from Squamish
One option that wouldn’t include any water crossing is a highway from Squamish.
It would take significantly longer for people to reach Metro Vancouver from the Sunshine Coast, and require several tunnels through mountainous terrain. But it would help keep the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route profitable for BC Ferries (it makes $10 million a year, helping to subsidize smaller routes), would require no bridges over Howe Sound – and has been researched by people on the Sunshine Coast for many years.
“Our road concept has been around a long, long time,” says Colin Palmer, Electoral Area C Director for the Powell River Regional District, and member of the Third Crossing Society.
“What’s triggering part of the issue is the very high ferry fares. It’s becoming more and more difficult for people to move. If that road went through, there’d be less worry about the ferry fares.”
A road from Squamish could either south to Port Mellon and Gibsons, or west to Powell River, but Palmer argues a road to his city, while longer, would open up more economic opportunities in the area.
“Squamish down to Gibsons, those economic advantages are limited. We see a lot more potential for economic development,” he says.
“There’s an aging demographic here, young people are looking to find work. We’re the end of the road, literally. To open up Powell River would be a huge significant benefit, for local government, for taxes, for people’s livelihood.”