On April 5, Georgia Straight reporter Matthew Burrows, along with editor Charlie Smith, interviewed B.C. premier Gordon Campbell at the Straight offices.
Here’s a transcript of the portion of the interview dealing with the Gateway highway-expansion project.
Matthew Burrows: Regarding the Gateway Program, taxpayer watchdog Maureen Bader is calling the Port Mann Bridge expansion project a “boondoggle”. How do you respond to that comment?
Gordon Campbell: I have no idea what she means by that. I think we’re going to get good value for that. I think it’s going to re-establish a transit line for the first time in 20 years. I think it’s going to provide not just better goods movement, but it’s going to provide people with a home closer. I think it was a competitive bid and a well-done bid, and I think it’s going to be a great project.
MB: My second question: Where in the world has expanding road capacity resulted in a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions?
GC: If it was only expanding road capacity, I think that would be a legitimate question. First of all it’s expanding transit capacity for the first time in 20 years, as I said. It’s going to be a transit service—
MB: There is an awful lot of [planned] road capacity there too, and that brings in the traffic and that raises greenhouse gases.
GC: Right now in the Lower Mainland, it’s about $1.5 billion a year that’s lost in congestion where cars are actually kept in traffic. If you talk to the goods-movement people in the Lower Mainland, you’ll hear that they spend about 70 percent of their time stopped in traffic. That generates greenhouse gases, that generates congestion, and that generates real costs to the economy. So, part of the plan is not just to expand goods movement—it’s also to expand transit and it’s also a record-high investment in cycling infrastructure in the province and it’s also to think about how we design our region. Part of this is about designing a new urban centre in Surrey, where they are actively pursuing that with their new university and their new urban initiatives around the transit stops in Surrey. As we expand the Evergreen Line into Port Coquitlam, it’s about making sure that there is urban development around those lines. We are not just undertaking a significant transportation improvement for goods movement. We are also undertaking the largest single public-transit investment in the history of the province—$14 billion over the next few years.
MB: I have to quote one of your former caucus members, Gordon Price, who, in 2004 said that it [Gateway] was an “asphalt onslaught” on the region [as referenced in a 2006 Straight article]. How do you respond to such a comment?
GC: I disagree with him. Again, if it was only one thing that was happening that would be one thing.
MB: Greenhouse-gas emissions is a pretty big part of your legacy as premier though.
GC: That’s right.
MB: You spoke to Al Gore last year [actually, in 2007] about reducing our emissions 33 percent by 2020. How will that be achieved alongside such a big road project?
GC: There is a whole series of things. First of all, it’s not just a project to expand transportation infrastructure and goods movement; it also expands public transit for the first time in over 20 years. There’s been no public transit on that route for 20 years. There will be a rapid bus service which will get people—initially, as soon as that bridge is open—it will get people from Langley to Burnaby in 23 minutes. That’s going to make it a very attractive service. We will be redesigning the urban core, so that you end up with not just Coquitlam being a significant urban centre, but Surrey being a significant urban centre. We’re going to increase the investments that we make in public transit generally. We’ve reduced the amount of carbon that’s in our fuel consumption. We are encouraging other activities that encourage people to actually reduce their transportation demands generally. Tolling the bridge, for example, is generally perceived by most people to be a major area where you can control demand—demand-management undertaking. So if it was only one thing that was happening, I hear those voices that you’re talking about. And I understand that some people will disagree with it. But it’s many, many things that are happening at once to try and make the region more livable, to reduce our impact and our greenhouse-gas impact, to invest in public transit. And I think that when you take all those things together—as we move to California tailpipe emissions and those other initiatives—I think you will see actually a reduction in greenhouse gases.
MB: A reduction through the Gateway Program as already on the books?
GC: Well, you’ll have to define what you mean by the Gateway Program. What I—
Charlie Smith: The whole road-building project, including the South Fraser Perimeter Road.
GC: You can define it how you want.
CS: Well, how do you define it?
GC: I define the Gateway project as public transit initiatives and as goods movement initiatives. I define the Gateway project, frankly, as transportation to invite people from the rest of the world here. I define the Gateway project as port initiatives. I define the Gateway project as being a sustainable long-term economic strategy that says, “Yes, we are going to reduce our greenhouse gases within that context. Yes, we’re going to have economic activity. Yes, we’re going to have jobs.” And that’s going to happen across the region and across the province. Prince Rupert’s part of our Gateway Program—
CS: Is the South Fraser Perimeter Road part of the Gateway Program?
GC: Yes, it is.