By Eric Doherty and Andrew Murray
TransLink has been crying poverty as of late, claiming that it does not have the money to keep a third SeaBus in operation. Never mind completing the long-promised Evergreen Line or providing enough buses to implement the planned U-Pass expansion. However, TransLink has lots of cash when it comes to freeway expansion.
TransLink is running full speed ahead with what’s being called the “United Blvd. Extension – North Fraser Perimeter Rd. Phase 1”. It would cost $150 to $175 million for a little stub of freeway and an overpass that competes with the Evergreen Line, for both money and passengers. It is also a climate crime, as government spending on roadway expansion is one of the major drivers of increasing greenhouse-gas emissions in Canada.
In case you have never heard of the North Fraser Perimeter Road, it is Premier Gordon Campbell’s little-known plan to push a freeway through downtown New Westminster.
The North Fraser Perimeter Road freeway is reminiscent of what Mayor Tom “Terrific” Campbell had in mind for downtown Vancouver in the early 1970s. Tom Campbell got run over by a major freeway revolt. Vancouver city council is now considering tearing down his legacy—the half-kilometre-long Georgia Viaduct, which never became the network of freeways he dreamed of.
Gordon Campbell gained de-facto control of TransLink when he kicked local politicians off its board and got his allies, such as the Vancouver Board of Trade, to help appoint the new TransLink board. As should be expected given the corporate interests who appointed them, the board is pushing ahead with changing TransLink from focusing primarily on transit to bulldozing communities and farms for freeways.
Of course, the TransLink board does have what it thinks is a great excuse—free money. They have managed to get a promise of $65 million from the federal government, but only if they spend it on this freeway overpass within a very tight deadline. This $65 million is public money that could be used for transit, improving rail infrastructure, or creating a short sea shipping network to get trucks off the road throughout Metro Vancouver. There is no “free money” when it comes to the public purse; the opportunity cost of not spending the money on something else always needs to be considered. If the deadline is missed, $65 million of our money will not evaporate; it will still be available to be spent on something worthwhile.
There are also local impacts to be considered. Any expanded roadway in a growing urban region like Metro Vancouver will quickly fill up, and create new bottlenecks and increased congestion. In this case, the short stub of freeway would just feed onto the existing street network in New Westminster. It is not much of a mystery what would happen when this “big pipe” narrows down to local streets. Then, of course, the traffic snarls and local pollution become an excuse for the next section of freeway pushing toward downtown New Westminster.
It is time to demand that our public-transit agency focus on providing public transit. It is impossible to create a good transit system without a clear commitment to putting transit first.
New Westminster city council may respond to pressure and block this proposal to put a freeway through residential neighbourhoods, including the high-density downtown core. The Mayors’ Council could also refuse to support any financial plan that puts freeway expansion ahead of transit.
In the early 1970s, when Mayor Tom Campbell’s freeway dreams were smashed, oil was cheap and nobody had ever heard of global warming. Now, the age of cheap oil is over and global warming has become a crisis that threatens our very survival. In the early ’70s people pushed for better transit instead of freeways because they wanted clean air and livable communities. These are still valid reasons, but we have much stronger reasons to do the same today.
You can submit comments about the proposed North Fraser Perimeter Road freeway on TransLink’s website.
Open houses are scheduled for this Thursday (November 18), from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (715 McBride Boulevard, New Westminster), and the following Thursday (November 25), from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Place des Arts (1120 Brunette Avenue, Coquitlam).
Eric Doherty is a member of the Council of Canadians’ Vancouver-Burnaby chapter.
Andrew Murray is a member of the Council of Canadians’ New Westminster chapter.