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Editorial: Ferry proposal of little benefit

The former chairman of the Gabriola Island ferry advisory committee proposes a new system of bridges and terminals to ease travel between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

The former chairman of the Gabriola Island ferry advisory committee proposes a new system of bridges and terminals to ease travel between Vancouver Island and the mainland. It’s an intriguing plan in theory, but one that does not promise many benefits for Greater Victoria.

The personal proposal from Andre Lemieux, a retired airline pilot and longtime resident of Gabriola Island, would see traffic go by bridges from Nanaimo to Mudge Island to Gabriola Island and then to Valdez Island. A new ferry terminal on Valdez Island would connect with a new terminal at Iona Island, adjacent to Vancouver International Airport, reducing by half the distance travelled on water. That would reduce ferry costs between 30 per cent and 50 per cent, he says.

Selling Nanaimo’s three ferry terminals would help finance the bridges and the Valdez terminal. The new mainland terminal would be built with proceeds from selling the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to Kinder Morgan, which could extend its oil pipeline to Tsawwassen, thereby taking oil tankers away from Vancouver’s harbour.

Travellers to the mainland would have quick access to rapid transit, the airport and the highways going east, north and south. The Horseshoe Bay terminal would not be needed, except for travel to the Sunshine Coast.

The plan is technically possible, but huge environmental, social and economic obstacles stand in its way.

First, those bridges. Lemieux is the first to admit the idea of bridges wouldn’t play well on Gabriola Island, and that’s understandable. Most people live there because of a lifestyle that would be seriously threatened by a steady stream of traffic bound for the mainland. Tiny Mudge Island would suffer even more, and building a highway the length of Valdez Island would change its nature drastically.

Lemieux says the common good outweighs the needs and wishes of Gabriola Island residents, but it isn’t only the people who live there who would object to changing the face of this unique place.

He says his project could be completed by 2020, but environmental-impact assessments would take at least that long, with no guarantee the project would pass environmental muster. There’s not much appetite these days for development in pristine places.

Lemieux is right that three ferry terminals in Nanaimo don’t make sense, but selling them is easier said than done. A ferry terminal isn’t exactly a money-maker, especially if the bulk of the traffic is going to be redirected onto a series of bridges and roads. Also, it should be noted that the Duke Point terminal was seen as a great step forward when it was opened in 1997.

Under this proposal, a trip to the mainland from Greater Victoria would mean travelling the Trans-Canada Highway to Nanaimo over the Malahat, which can barely handle current traffic. Adding traffic headed from Victoria to the mainland is out of the question.

The solution, says Lemieux, is to redesign or re-route the Malahat, another proposal that would be tied up for years in environmental, social and legal issues. It would also mean a major overhaul of the Trans-Canada Highway between Victoria and the Malahat — think Colwood Crawl on steroids.

We can’t get funding for a McKenzie Avenue overpass to accommodate current traffic. What chance would there be to finance the multiple interchanges and other work that would be necessary to accommodate the vastly increased traffic headed up-Island?

When you live on an island, travelling off the island is complicated. That’s a fact of life most Islanders are willing to accept — it’s the price of living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Most of us wouldn’t mind if travel to the mainland was quicker and easier, but not at any cost.