Third crossing survey brings lukewarm response 

Increased access to Whistler and Squamish pushed in tunnel proposal

A renewed push for a third crossing of Burrard Inlet, which would improve access to Whistler and Squamish as well as enhance the region’s chances of landing the 2010 Winter Olympics, received a lukewarm reception last week.

Representatives of TransVision, a group of Lower Mainland business and community leaders, spoke at council meetings in the District of North Vancouver, West Vancouver and City of North Vancouver early in the week, presenting the results of a recent Ipsos-Reid poll.

Roger Latta and Bob Wilds of TransVision told North Vancouver District council that 85 per cent of survey participants favoured a third crossing. Of those in favour, 76 per cent (86 per cent of those surveyed on the North Shore) supported a tunnel rather than a bridge, and 70 per cent (62 per cent on the North Shore) would accept user tolls.

The poll of 600 adults was done by phone, with 200 from the North Shore, 200 from Vancouver and Burnaby, and the remaining 200 from elsewhere in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points 19 times out of 20.

While similar efforts in the past have received widespread support, they bogged down in the details, including location of the crossing and the cost of financing. Latta said his group is looking strictly at private financing, with tolls being used to repay the debt.

A majority of those surveyed indicated they felt the two current crossings, Lions Gate and Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows bridges, will not be able to handle traffic demands within 10 years, with some saying the bridges are already at or near maximum carrying capacity.

"This would greatly improve access to Squamish and Whistler," said Latta. "And it would certainly enhance the Vancouver-Whistler bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics."

He said the survey did not get into the question of possible upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway. But on Feb. 6, speaking to reporters in Salt Lake City, Utah, site of the current Winter Games, West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling told reporters the provincial government will be tabling highway improvement options for public discussion by May of this year. Nebbeling is spearheading the 2010 Winter Games bid for the provincial government.

Though Latta said no location for a proposed rail-vehicle tunnel has been discussed, the most support in the survey was given to a six-kilometre underwater and underground link from the Main and Terminal area of Vancouver to somewhere in the vicinity of Capilano Road in the District of North Vancouver. He added that so far, the survey is the extent of the work done by TransVision, and the planning process would have to be much further advanced before it could be determined what tolls might be, whether a rail crossing might include freight as well as passenger vehicles, and any other specific details.

While the three North Shore councils received the presentations, and North Vancouver City voted 4-3 to support some sort of third crossing, all stopped short of outright endorsement. North Vancouver District asked staff for a report, which will be a historical recount of all previous third crossing reports.

North Vancouver City Mayor Barbara Sharp said the municipalities have to be involved in any decision, and the opinions of residents must be heard, but added that there is controversy over where all the new traffic would go.

NVD Mayor Don Bell said although he is supportive of improvements to the transportation links from the North Shore to Vancouver, he’s not certain a tunnel is the best solution. He suggested the possibility of twinning the Second Narrows Bridge as a less costly alternative.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who is also the chair of Translink, said he fully supports the idea, particularly if it is privately funded and paid for through tolls.

While Vancouver council has not addressed the survey, Councillor Gordon Price likened the proposal for a third crossing to a vampire.

"Every three or four years you just about have to drive a stake into its heart to kill the thing," Price said.

Vancouver Councillor Jennifer Clark also panned the idea, questioning where all the new traffic would go on the Vancouver side, and pointing out that with the current fiscal climate, a third crossing is not a council priority.

Last year, as part of a transportation review, Vancouver councillors agreed not to consider any potential vehicle-oriented crossing for at least 10 years.

West Vancouver councillor and TransVision chair John Clark said the major hurdle to the proposal is finding the political will to advance the planning process. He said TransVision estimates the cost of an underwater crossing at between $700 million and $1 billion.

TransVision includes such groups as the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, the Downtown Vancouver Association, Vancouver Board of Trade, several municipal chambers of commerce and the Vancouver Parks Board.

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