Cathy Wilander and Eric Doherty: Scrub the greenwash off the Freeway Olympics

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      By Cathy Wilander and Eric Doherty

      Many people are asking: Why protest the Olympics when the money is already spent and most of the damage is done?

      The reason we will be out on the streets on Friday (February 12) to welcome the Olympic torch and opening ceremony is to highlight the real story and the real costs of the Games and related projects. An informed public is our best hope of stopping such multi-billion-dollar boondoggles in the future.

      If the truth about these Games is not exposed, more destructive megaprojects will follow, and B.C. residents will be left paying off the debt, breathing the pollution, and watching global warming spiral out of control. But if we speak up loud and clear, public resources can be redirected toward making our province a better place to live instead of financing the destruction of our environment and communities.

      The 2010 Winter Olympics have been branded the “Greenest Games”. But the Games are linked to a massive freeway expansion scheme which is already boosting consumption of tar sands oil and funnelling dirty money into the pockets of Olympic sponsors such as General Motors, Petro-Canada, the Royal Bank, and TransCanada Pipelines. The previous Winter Games in Italy were bad enough, but at least they included a pledge to avoid any major roadway expansion. The 2010 Games are a huge step backwards for environmental standards at the Olympics.

      The Olympic Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion was not needed—the existing rail line and highway would have been sufficient with modest upgrades. But Olympic insiders insisted on a $980-million highway expansion, deciding that a few minutes travel time for VIPs is worth increasing global warming and destroying wildlife habitat. That public money, almost a billion dollars, could have paid for quality passenger rail service across the province for years to come.

      The Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion is now complete, and we will be paying off the debt for decades to come. But the Sea-to-Sky Highway is only one part of a massive freeway and highway-building binge in B.C. Just two of the Gateway Program freeways in Metro Vancouver (Highway 1-Port Mann Bridge and the proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway) would cost about $5 billion. The short section of Gateway freeway proposed for downtown New Westminister could cost another billion, bringing the total to $6 billion. Start adding up all the freeway projects planned across the province, and the bill quickly reaches $12 billion, twice the cost of what many B.C. residents are already calling the “Owe-lympics”.

      The Olympics have blown a $6-billion hole in the public purse, but Gateway is set to blow an even bigger hole in B.C.’s finances. The proposed South Fraser freeway alone could take $2 billion away from transit, energy efficiency, housing, education, health care, arts funding, and other public priorities. Only minor preparatory work has been done on this unnecessary and environmentally disastrous project; it is not a done deal. Many freeway projects have been stopped after construction started—all it takes is public opposition and a financial crunch. The Georgia Viaduct was originally planned as a four-mile long freeway through Chinatown and East Vancouver, but public opposition and a budget squeeze left only an orphaned section now potentially slated for demolition.

      Gateway is only partly funded, and the post Owe-lympic financial mess will provide a unique opportunity to re-assess our public spending priorities. The question is whether people will take advantage of the unprecedented media attention during the Games to say “No” to continuing the multi-billion-dollar freeway expansion binge that started with the Sea-to-Sky highway.

      You can visit for information on how to get involved in scrubbing the greenwash off the Sea-to-Sky climate crime, and re-allocating billions from freeways to public transit and other priorities. Join us on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery to say no to corporate greenwashing and yes to a sustainable future for B.C.

      Cathy Wilander is the chair of the Delta-Richmond chapter of the Council of Canadians.

      Eric Doherty is a member of and lives in East Vancouver.




      Feb 8, 2010 at 6:53pm

      Great...more leeches using the Olympics as a coattail for their pet causes.

      Dozens of people have lost their lives on the Sea-to-Die highways because of the attitudes of Luddites like you. I don't know how any of you people sleep at nights with that on your conscience.

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      Carmen Mills

      Feb 8, 2010 at 7:17pm

      We are talking about the future of our planet here. Many more people will die due to accelerating climate change than will die on the sea-to-sky highway. Like the sign says...there are no jobs on a dead planet.

      Fortunately, the Limpicks may just sound the death knell for Gateway. My guess is that as the post-Games bills start to roll in, the public appetite for grandiose backward debt-laden megaprojects will be low, and the mood for dissent will be high.

      Gateway is not a done deal. Now is the time to stop it.

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      Feb 8, 2010 at 8:37pm

      "...people have lost their lives on the Sea-to-Die ..."

      Perhaps you should read the article. They are advocating a rail link instead of highway expansion. Rail travel has a much lower death toll than automotive travel.

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      Eric Doherty

      Feb 8, 2010 at 10:02pm

      Transitrider wrote "Dozens of people have lost their lives on the Sea-to-Die"

      We wrote that the existing highway would have been sufficient with "modest upgrades". All across BC you can see highways where safety upgrades have been made without spending huge amounts widening roads. Significant safety improvements could have been made to the highway for a very modest cost.

      But r_ is exactly right. If you want to save lives, the best thing to do is get people out of their cars and onto passenger trains and buses. We don't have statistics yet, but the Sea-to-Sky widening may increase the number of fatalities on the route.

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      Feb 8, 2010 at 10:52pm

      Michael Campbell hit the nail on the head this week:

      The reason we spend money on things like the Olympics is because it is an 'investment'. Investments bring you returns on your money, leaving you with more than you had to start with. Homeless people... not so much.

      And really, arts funding?? That sounds like another form of welfare to me. If you can't support yourself financially with your art, get a day-job. I would much rather have our 40 year-old highway architecture upgraded (no one will EVER convince me that a new Port Mann wasn't needed...) than a bunch of grants for something that did just fine for the first 5000 years of our culture on money from patronage.

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      Feb 8, 2010 at 11:36pm

      When BCR was still run by the BC Govt there was a train to Whistler, but it was expensive compared to driving.

      Safety is a consideration, not just for skiers going to Whistler but for scuba divers going to Ansell, Kelvins Grove and Porteau, and I don't know how that could have been achieved without expanding to a four configuration. The mystery to me is why some sections have been left as three and even two lanes, in some cases with no dividing barriers in the middle.

      Hwy 99 should have been improved through to its junction with Hwy 97 at Hat Creek. That would allow for greater tourism development along the entire corridor, including more destination ski resorts. Perhaps Doherty and Wilander can tell us if they are also opposed to the Cariboo connector, that is, widening Hwy 97 to four lanes over the next decade or so.

      The only reason West Vancouver was opposed to the Eagle Ridge portion of the project was not because they wanted to save a wetland, but because they wanted to develop it for millionaire housing.

      Carmen Mills, the self-proclaimed transportation expert who appears in front of Vancouver City Council to great acclaim, while people like Mike Proudfoot of the Gateway office are treated with derision by sophisticates like Cadman and Deal, says the opposition to PMH1 and the NFPR is about climate change. That is laughably untrue. These projects would not significantly alter the GHG output of the Metro region compared to the base case.

      The opposition to Gateway, which is promoted and publicized by a variety of lobbying groups, is financed by entrenched real estate interests and encouraged by politicians and bureaucrats in Vancouver and Burnaby who fear that an improved Hwy 1 will lead to small declines in core residential real estate prices, thus depriving the wealthiest people in Western Canada of a small portion of their untaxed capital gains in their principal residences, and will also lead to more industrial development in Surrey and Langley, where one finds fully HALF of the undeveloped industrial land in the region. That could mean a shift in the industrial and commercial tax base towards those municipalities at the expense of Vancouver and Burnaby.

      People like Carmen and Eric are enlisted to put a political greenwash on opposition to these projects that is in reality based entirely on Vancouver and Burnaby residents' demands for personal enrichment and in their municipal leaders' needs for political status and industrial and commercial tax revenue.

      It's quite the game, alright.
      Rod Smelser

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      Carmen Mills

      Feb 9, 2010 at 12:28am

      Um, yeah Rod, Eric and I are highly paid to oppose Gateway. We're just in it for the money. Unlike the BC Liberals and the fossil fuel corporations and their massive public relations firms, who have only the well-being of the public and the planet in mind.

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      Bernadette Keenan

      Feb 9, 2010 at 5:06am

      Arts have a long history of patronage and what is wrong if it comes from government, but it is more than just arts programs that are being cut to spend money on the Gateway Highway 1 expansion, new Port Mann Bridge, South Fraser Freeway. There are autism treatment programs, battered women and children programs, education and health care funding, gaming grants to sports and community groups, seniors programs funding and more.
      All of these cuts mean lost jobs and for what? So our money cna be wastsed creating the least sustainable possible transportation infrastructure. There are immediate, less expensive solutions such as reinstating bus service accross the Port Mann Bridge that would create even more green jobs, that are being postponed until a huge amount of pavement is put down at a huge economic and environmental expense.
      Besides the pollution creating health risks, and adding to Green house Gas emissions (more than any other project in BC probably) things like the South Fraser Freeway will harm Burns Bog which is an internationally renowned carbon sink, the lungs of the lower mainland, to say nothing of all the trees being cut down, farmland being lost, homes and communities being destroyed. Never mind billions, thousands of milllions of dollars that our children's children will be paying off, there are enormous costs that have not even been calculated into the mix.
      But people that live all over the lower Mainland, including in Surrey and Delta, Langley even are actively resisting this economic boondoggle and envrionmental disaster. The South Fraser Freeway and Gateway projects can be stopped. Jurisdictions all over the world are decommisioning freeways, reclaiming waterfront, farmland and public space. BC needs to get smart, learn from these lessons and avoid making costly mistakes that everyone in this province and even from other parts of Canada (federal stimulus funds are involved) will be paying for.
      Lets leave our children a legacy that has some value, instead of overwhelming debt, decentralized industrial complexes and residential urban sprawl, pavement and thousands of trucks, the South Fraser can be a showcase sustainable linear park, hiking biking trail extending from even Hope to the Tsawwassen Ferrys with sustainable communities, with live work opportunities, services by dedicated bike lanes increased transit, and light rail, that provides green employment opportunities as well as
      urban wilderness recreation.
      Now that would be a truely Green Games legacy.

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      ursa minor

      Feb 9, 2010 at 8:14am

      "Dozens of people have lost their lives on the Sea-to-Die highways because of the attitudes of Luddites like you"

      "Luddites" are the leading cause of speeding and impaired driving?

      Who knew?

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      Feb 9, 2010 at 8:47am

      "Dozens of people have lost their lives on the Sea-to-Die highways because of the attitudes of Luddites like you."

      If safety is truly the issue, then the Whistler Hwy is money ill-spent. According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the Sea to Sky isn't even in the top twelve of Canada's most dangerous roads.

      "Investments bring you returns on your money, leaving you with more than you had to start with. Homeless people... not so much."

      Addressing homelessness is actually a great investment. It costs far more to deal with the symptoms rather than the problems, as a person with a home has the stability to address other issues that challenge them. This isn't an opinion, it's been quantified repeatedly. Further, mega-events raise the cost of doing business for almost all sectors as well as adding to the tax burden for individuals and businesses.

      "If you can't support yourself financially with your art, get a day-job. "

      One could make the same argument about the subsidies and funding for the Own The Podium program.

      Putting aside emotion and hyperbole from both sides, the numbers simply don't add up when it is suggested that the Olympics or major highway improvements are a net benefit to our society. In a time when we need to rethink transportation and fossil fuel dependence it is wasteful and harmful to our environment and our children to continue to engage in the economies of spectacle and over-consumption.

      Also, poor people are far more environmentally-friendly than wealthy ones, because they consume so much less. From as energy-audit perspective, that homeless person is much better for the environment than any captain of industry.

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