Professor calls Port Mann Bridge a "white elephant"

The director of SFU’s urban studies program, Anthony Perl, has claimed that a new Port Mann Bridge will become the “Mirabel Airport” of Metro Vancouver. In a phone interview with the Straight, Perl said the B.C. government is building the bridge for a future that won’t exist, just as Mirabel was built in the 1970s for supersonic transport and space planes, which never materialized.

“You’re not going to be able to turn the Port Mann Bridge in for a refund,” Perl said. “There is no refund option on these white elephants.”

Mirabel, a $500-million project located 40 kilometres northwest of Montreal, opened in 1975. Promoted as an airport of the future, it was a monumental financial bust and closed to passenger traffic in 2004. Two years later, Montreal’s airport authority announced that it had struck a deal with two French companies to convert the site into an amusement park.

In February, the B.C. government estimated that it would cost $3.3 billion to build, operate, and finance the Port Mann–Highway 1 Project, which is part of the Gateway Program. The new tolled bridge will have 10 lanes and is expected to be completed in 2013.

Perl, coauthor of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil (Earthscan, 2008), said the Gateway Program is being built on the assumption that global trade will continue to grow and that trucks will move goods to their destinations on an expanded road system. Perl predicted, however, that rising energy costs—triggered by a peak in global oil production—will likely decimate demand for imports and exports. He has previously argued that huge capital investments should be made in electric rail, which will remain affordable even if oil prices escalate sharply.

“China is having a huge railway-building boom,” Perl said. “That’s what they’re using their [economic] stimulus for. It’s about a trillion dollars—the majority is going to rail. They’re not building a centimetre of new rail that isn’t electric because they understand that they need that energy alternative.”



Garry from Surrey

Aug 6, 2009 at 7:58am

Wonder if The director of SFU’s Anthony Perl ever drive over the Portman. that Bridge should been done 5 years go. Mr Professor try to drive over the bridge then see. i have feeling you just got out the bed and try to make comment about something you have no clue about.

Evil Eye

Aug 6, 2009 at 8:46am

Yup, that is BC; 19th century politicians, with a 20th century mentality, equals disaster


Aug 6, 2009 at 9:09am

Why is that with all the excess rail freight capacity due to the recession are there still fuel sucking, road wrecking trucks hauling freight to Kamloops, Kelowna, Alberta and beyond?

The railways should be encouraged to drop their rates to fill up their excess capacity and shut down long haul trucking.

If railway inefficiency is the problem the team of attorneys and MBA's in railway management needs to get the boot and be replaced with a team that can do the job.

Aug 6, 2009 at 9:26am

Tell that to the half a million people or so that live south of the Fraser River and who have to suffer through the agony of a daily commute across the existing bridge.

China may indeed be going through a railway boom, but they've also invested billions in highway infrastructure -- as Perl would quickly realize if he had spent any time in China at all.


Aug 6, 2009 at 11:14am

Surrey could have an extensive 200km network of light rail extending into all surrounding municipalities for the same cost as one Port Mann white elephant monster bridge. If ten percent of the single occupant vehicle traffic was removed from the existing bridge there would be no congestion. In addition, most of the congestion is during morning and afternoon rush hours. I've driven across the bridge umpteen times during the middle of the day with no congestion.

Progressive cities around the world are building public transit for the future, not building massive infrastructure projects to move single occupant vehicles en masse. I suspect the reason the main building proponent dropped out of the picture earlier this year is because they didn't want to gamble on a bad idea.

This province is currently being run by a bunch of bungling buffoons with no foresight, or regard for how responsibly our tax dollars are spent.


Aug 7, 2009 at 10:44pm

The Port Mann bridge is stupid not because of the impacts on climate change or fossil fuel depletion, but because it is a senseless waste of resources.
We need to start to use our resources more intelligently and that means more rail, fewer single-occupant vehicles, are far less mindless consumerism.
Can we be happy with less or is endless growth and its sequent environmental degradation our only lot?


Aug 8, 2009 at 11:10am

Reality is growth in the Fraser Valley has been waiting for infrastucture to catch up as long as I can remember! There are no more band-aid fixes, the bridge must be built. However we don't need a 10 lane bridge to replace the existing one. Build a smaller, cheaper bridge and keep the existing Port Mann. Remember the new lane was added not 8 years ago at a huge cost to taxpayers. There is an end to the amount we taxpayers can come up with!!!


Oct 15, 2009 at 6:09pm

We must either subsidize the railways as we do highways, or remove the subsidies from highways. Tolls on our bridges are a small start.


Jan 23, 2010 at 9:50pm

How about stopping the missapropreation of tax funds & spend tax money more wisely . The government collects over 4 billion dollars a year in gas tax but only spends less than 10% on road improvements & transit. Transit needs to be afordable to the common person . This will help congestion .


Feb 5, 2010 at 12:20pm

i think the professor does not know what he is talking