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.”