How do we get there from here?

One of the major failures of British Columbia governments in the past decade, and there have been many, has been the inability to look beyond the day to day issues and plan for the future. Nowhere is that more true than in the province’s transportation infrastructure.

The Sea to Sky Highway, or an alternative to it, has of course been an issue for this corridor for years. But the Lower Mainland and most of the rest of B.C. are also in dire need of new or improved transportation systems. Connecting people within the province and connecting the province to the rest of the world is crucial to British Columbia’s well being.

Long-distance truck drivers have for several years avoided British Columbia’s roads when possible and driven the American interstate highways, to save wear and tear on their vehicles and for a smoother, faster trip. The port of Seattle has, in many instances, been the beneficiary while the port of Vancouver has missed out.

At a tourism conference last month in Vancouver delegates talked about the Salmon Arm-Revelstoke section of the TransCanada Highway and how many tragedies have occurred on that stretch of road, including the accident just before Christmas involving a bus load of Asian visitors.

The Lower Mainland, the economic centre of the province, is a massive traffic snarl that hasn’t seen a substantial improvement of any kind since the SkyTrain was built for Expo 86 – the world exposition that had transportation as its theme.

To be sure, money has been thrown at the transportation issue in the last few years. The idol fast ferries, the Broadway-Lougheed SkyTrain route and the Island Highway come immediately to mind – as grossly over-priced projects that were undertaken without a comprehensive plan.

But perhaps the Lions Gate Bridge Completion Project is most symbolic of B.C.’s ineptitude in planning. The 1990s were a decade of unprecedented economic growth, one that most of the rest of North America used to get its books in order and lay a foundation for the future. But in B.C., instead of planning for a vibrant future we’re trying to "complete" a 70-year-old bridge. Certainly it’s a beautiful bridge and it should be maintained, but the completion project doesn’t begin to address the Lower Mainland’s or the Sea to Sky Corridor’s needs in the 21 st century.

The completion project’s motto – Wider, Stronger, Safer – pales in comparison to the Olympic motto (Swifter, Higher, Stronger), which should have been the goal, whether the 2010 Games come to Vancouver-Whistler or not. The bridge will someday be wider, stronger and safer, whenever engineers finish groping like teenage boys trying to slip something new under a maze of straps and cables and suspension systems. But at the end of the day, after $100 million and months of delays, a bridge designed in the 1930s to connect the British Properties with downtown Vancouver will still do that and little more.

Building highways and connecting towns, has been a proud tradition of B.C. governments, undertaken in the most difficult province in the country to build roads. But whether it’s railways, highways or information super highways, there hasn’t been a long-term plan for this province for years. It’s been a piecemeal approach to everything for the last decade and the last four premiers, only three of whom were actually elected premier by the people of B.C.

Regardless of the political stripe of the next provincial government, it has to come forward with a long-range transportation plan to coincide with a long-term financial plan for the province. Otherwise the province is going to choke to death.

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