Transportation Forum focuses on provincial upgrades and improvements 

Sea to Sky Highway not number one

Mayors, politicians and transportation experts gathered this week in Vancouver to discuss and plan much needed infrastructure improvements.

Most lobbied hard for they’re own causes, seeking assurance from the provincial government that they are on the radar.

For most at the conference the improvements to the Sea to Sky highway were way down the list.

Even the federal government, a strong supporter of Vancouver and Whistler hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, wasn’t making any promises when it came to helping to pay for upgrades of the Sea to Sky Highway.

Premier Gordon Campbell made it clear he wants the federal government to help pay for the improvements as the province works toward winning the 2010 Games.

And the International Olympic Committee has made it clear that highway improvements are needed.

But federal Transportation Minister David Collenette, who also attended the forum, stopped short of promising cash. Instead, he said, he relied on the provincial government to let him know what the priorities are for British Columbia.

The province has been studying proposals for the Sea to Sky for months, if not years, and is currently meeting with stakeholders in the corridor to explore options.

The most likely option is a four-lane highway between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish and a three-lane highway from Squamish to Whistler.

There are even discussions underway about paving the B.C. rail line to get around the significant road closures needed to complete the improvements.

It has been estimated that the road would have to be closed for four hours each day and eight hours each night, four days a week, for three seasons of the year, for four to six years,

Late last month B.C.’s Transportation Ministerm Judith Reidm told Pique that $10 billion worth of improvements are needed in transportation around the province. The Sea to Sky Highway is only one of several projects the province is looking at.

She also made it clear there is no money to pay for the upgrades, making tolls around the province and partnerships with private companies more than likely.

Last week Paul Landry, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association wrote to Reid.

"We are strongly opposed to continuous long-term reductions in provincial expenditures, in conjunction with current tax levels, in favour of private capital and tolls," he said.

"Tolls should only be used to finance new highways that would not otherwise be constructed and where construction of these highways results in clear and demonstrable benefits. Also and alternate, toll-free route must be available for any tolled route."

Landry said the trucking industry understands the need for tolls and for private investment if B.C.’s transportation system is to stay competitive.

But the first source of money should be the road user taxes.

"The Ministry of Transportation has a responsibility to invest more of out road user taxes in our highway system," he said.

Of highest priority for the truckers are improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway in the Lower Mainland and between Kamloops and the B.C.-Alberta border, Highway 97 in the Okanagan and highways accessing the US.

"We do not, however, support billions of scarce dollars being spent on the proposed Richmond-Vancouver rapid transit project or the Sea to Sky Highway," said Landry.

"The latter investment will provide benefits to only a small minority of B.C. residents and will not make a significant long-term contribution to B.C.’s economy."

Trucks transport 90 per cent of all consumer products and foodstuffs within Canada.

The trucking business isn’t the only industry affected by B.C.’s failing transportation system.

A survey by the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. found the province’s ailing transportation system is the number one issue holding back growth and investment in the sector.

"A decade of neglect has left us with a transportation system on life-support," said COTA’s president Don Monsour.

"Our highway, ferry and air network is the backbone of B.C.’s $9 billion tourism industry and is in urgent need of fixing."

Other areas targeted by the tourism industry, as problems are the reduced service to regional airports, decerased ferry capacity and sailings, and long delays at the B.C.-U.S. border.

Monsour criticized the government’s failure to invest more of the road user taxes into the system and warned them that "the time has come for government to see transportation as a core service in support of industry and the economy rather than a direct source of income."

Generally most tourism operators are in favour of the provincial government’s current plan to involve the private sector in provincial projects. And 60 per cent said they are supportive of the idea of tolls to finance major improvements in roads and bridges. However, tolls should not be considered where no alternate route is available.

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