The provincial government appears hell-bent on proceeding with the proposed $3.5-billion, 10-lane toll bridge to replace the existing, often-congested Massey Tunnel. This project is quite understandable to the many commuters who must use the tunnel every day to get to and from work, and spend enormous amounts of time sitting in traffic jams. Massey Tunnel is simply no longer capable of accommodating daily traffic volumes.
Donkey’s years ago I travelled through the tunnel every day. I grew up in the Boundary Bay area and went to school in Vancouver, so my mother would drive me through the tunnel every day. Traffic congestion was not a problem at all — there were never long jam-ups. How times have changed!
At first blush, the proposed solution makes sense — where there is congestion simply expand the congested bottleneck. Frustrated drivers and many others intuitively conclude that the most sensible solution is to solve the problem by making room for more vehicles.
Unfortunately, this “solution” has never solved the problem in the long term. As soon as road networks are expanded to accommodate a growing volume of traffic, the volume increases even further in response to the new uncongested reality. In a short time we’re right back to where we started — in a traffic jam.
Traffic planners around the world have learned this lesson and now are unanimous that the only long-term solution to traffic congestion is to deal with the root cause of the problem. Everyone gets it. Let me correct that — everyone except our premier gets it.
The real solution to the Massey Tunnel congestion would address the root cause of the problem — too many single occupancy vehicles going through the tunnel. The upside is there are so many creative, very inexpensive solutions available — ones that would eliminate the need for this multi-billion-dollar boondoggle.
If we’re going to toll things, how about a toll on the existing tunnel? After all, when it was first constructed there was a toll to pay for it. The new toll could be 24/7, or it could be in effect during rush hour only. It could be revenue-neutral in the sense that none of the money generated would go back to general revenue in Victoria, but could be used instead to subsidize or eliminate bus fares for folks taking public transit south of the Fraser River.
How about taking that one step further and having a toll on the tunnel that would gradually be ratcheted until we achieve success? Success would mean no more congestion due to the fact that a high enough ratio of vehicles now had at least one passenger. The more passengers you have, the less your toll would be. Car-sharing alone could easily eliminate congestion.
How about bus rapid transit? Transit experts around the world now recognize that we can get the same impact from bus rapid transit that we can from light rail. BRT or bus rapid transit is essentially LRT on rubber — a dedicated right-of-way for buses with no red lights and, ideally, prepaid boarding.
If the premier is absolutely adamant about proceeding with this ill-conceived project could she not, at the very least, include a dedicated lane on the new bridge that would be reserved for bus rapid transit?
It is so sad that when we wanted to modestly increase TransLink’s revenue, all of which was to be used to very significantly improve public transit region-wide, we had to have a referendum. However, if the premier wants to spend billions of dollars on a boondoggle all that is required is her signature — by fiat.