The provincial government has announced that it is studying the feasibility of a fixed link between the Sunshine Coast and Metro Vancouver that would replace the existing B.C. Ferries services.
The routes that are being considered include a direct bridge connection across Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky Highway south of Squamish to an overland highway route further north around Jervis Inlet.
The government says a Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued to contract a private firm to study the cost and benefits of various fixed route options against the existing ferry services.
“We’ve heard from stakeholders from Powell River to the Sunshine Coast that highway access is important for attracting tourism and investment,” said B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone in a statement. “Over the coming months, we’ll look at the opportunities available and see how the costs and benefits stack up against the existing transportation options.”
Currently, a 40 minute ferry ride from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay to Langdale provides the quickest connection for Sunshine Coast residents and visitors. There is an additional 50 minute ferry ride for anyone venturing further up the coast into Powell River.
The government is acknowledging that there could be resistance to change, given that a fixed route could change the character and quaint, laid back culture of the small coastal communities.
“While there are many who will embrace a more non-stop connection to Metro Vancouver, there are others who won’t want to see such change,” said West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy. “As the costs and benefits of various links are assessed, it’s important to hear first-hand how communities feel about the possibilities.”
Late last year, the government also announced a separate feasibility study for a possible bridge between Gabriola Island and Vancouver Island to replace the existing ferry service.
A blog that advocates for a fixed link between the Sunshine Coast and Metro Vancouver outlines some possible routes a direct link could take.
Oddvin Vedo, a former Sechelt economic development official, says fixed routes crossing Howe Sound could be built directly from Porteau Cove to Port Mellon or Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons, via Bowen Island or Gambier Island.
The Porteau Cove option offers a shallow area that could be suitable for a bridge or tunnel while a route that starts from Horseshoe Bay could create a direct link to the Trans Canada Highway. He believes bridge and tunnel combination designs across a deep fjord in Norway could be replicated for a Howe Sound crossing.
Construction and annual maintenance costs for the link would be funded by tolls, at a significantly lower rate than the existing ferry fares that could cost as much as $100 for a family driving a regular sized vehicle. During most daytime operating hours, sailings run about every two hours, with sailing waits as a regular occurrence.
“A couple rented a U-Haul in Sechelt a week or so ago,” Vedo wrote in mid-August. “I asked where they were going, and that was back to Alberta. They had just sold out in Alberta, and moved here six months ago.”
“They loved the coast, like we all do. They had kids going to school or university in Vancouver, and thought it would be easy to commute on the ferries. Their frustration over the ferries made them sell out at a great loss, and move back to Alberta.”
Vedo argues that ferries are costly and expensive to operate and maintain, which is why the government is moving forward with the study, and that a fixed link could generate a number of new economic opportunities for the area.
With a reliable and quick transportation route to the rest of the B.C. Mainland, a fixed link would create new avenues for tourism to flourish and make the Sunshine Coast a much more attractive place to reside and do business. It would essentially make the Sunshine Coast an economic extension of the Metro Vancouver economy.
And of particular note, a fixed link could lead to the creation of a new route to the Woodfibre LNG facility and the utilization of Port Mellon, a deep sea port near Gambier Island, as a major regional port facility.
“With road and rail connections to Vancouver, this area could take a load off the Fraser River and inner Vancouver Harbour [ports],” Vedo wrote. “It could ship coal, grain, sulphur, wood, chips, oil, gas, or containers. This would free up much valuable harbour for city use, and reduce the risk of incidents. Port Mellon can handle larger, newer and safer vessels.”