Troubled water over Gabriola bridge study

The province is squandering up to $200,000 for a feasibility study on building a fixed link to join Gabriola to Vancouver Island.

One possible scenario would be a bridge from the Cedar area to Mudge Island and another from Mudge to Gabriola. Driving distance from Gabriola to downtown Nanaimo would be approximately 20 km.

The study is ill-founded because it’s confined to comparing capital and operating costs of various link routes to continuing the existing ferry service.

A decision to actually construct the link would involve the much greater consideration of how it will radically change Gabriola’s social and economic landscape. Because high-volume transportation projects spur development, Gabriola and Mudge would likely evolve into commuter communities for Nanaimo.

For much more about the bridge issue, visit

“Islanders and non islanders alike recognize that such connections destroy the very essence of islands, something that, once lost, can never be restored,” Islands Trust Former Chair Sheila Malcolmson, a Gabriola resident, complained to the province in a letter.

Such a link would also weaken the role of Islands Trust, a unique form of local government created by the province to preserve and protect the beautiful Gulf Islands which include Mudge and Gabriola. A poll in 2011 showed that almost 90 percent of British Columbians favor the Trust vision to protect the islands.

Trust Council’s policy statement, along with official community plans for Gabriola and Mudge, doesn’t support building fixed links to other islands. Critics note that the same government that approved these policies is spending public money on a study that could lead to undermining them.

If the study’s findings encourage actual construction, questions about its impact on the natural environment, government credibility and community values would dominate what would surely become a bitter public debate. These big questions should have been considered first in an open public process before comparing bridge-versus-ferry costs.

In addition to responding to a petition by the Gabriola Bridge Society, GIA believes the motivation for the study is to deflect criticism of the government over BC Ferries policies and practices. A study by BC municipalities this fall shows that excessive ferry fare increases and service cuts in the last decade sucked $2.3 billion out of the coastal island communities economy and deprived the province of $231 million in potential tax revenues. Instead of abandoning its unfair user-pay objective for ferries, a goal not applied to highways and public transit, the government is floating the distracting alternative of building fixed links.

GIA suspects the provincial government also sees the Gabriola project as strategic to building a major ferry terminal on Gabriola’s east side, to be closer to the Mainland, and ultimately a fixed link from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland. Among a half dozen possible routes, the least expensive would see Gabriola as a stepping stone between the Nanaimo area and Richmond.

The cost and engineering challenges to build a bridge or tunnel across Georgia Strait — they include its excessive length (up to 26 km), high volume freighter traffic, deep ocean, and earthquakes — make it an economic absurdity. At a currently estimated cost of a bridge at $12 billion, likely a wild underestimation, a break-even one-way toll would be $260 for an undersized vehicle.


In a letter to the Gabriola Sounder, Dave Neads, a Gabriola resident, commented further on the bridge study:

The proposal to replace B.C Ferry route 19 with a new highway will require expensive construction of two long, high span bridges, several kilometers of a two or 4-lane thoroughfare, new interchanges, local upgrades and disruptive expropriations on Gabriola, Mudge, and Cedar.

If the province does forge ahead with this new transportation project it will NOT build a homey, two lane, Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer affair with nice little bridges where you can stand and fish. Make no mistake, this initiative will be part of a larger scheme to implement the Short Ferry route from the mainland to Vancouver island.

In other words, this new transportation corridor will be a full blown industrial infrastructure project .

It was this proposal, the Short Ferry option, that B.C Ferries floated as a trial balloon a couple of weeks ago. The proposal has gone back to be reworked, but it will resurface once the two lane or four lane route analysis is made public this spring.

Consider: the province carries a $64 billion debt load. The Quinsam runs about $1.5 million deficit. In other words, .000023 % of the provincial obligation. There is no way the province will spend a hundred or more million dollars to remove this infinitesimal debt.

However, Victoria will happily spend this much money to rearrange B. C. Ferries major routes. Not only will this plan save them hundreds of millions in upgrade costs to the aging, congested, non-earthquake proof Horseshoe Bay infrastructure, the adoption of the Short Ferry strategy will facilitate the removal of one third of B. C Ferries Salish Sea crossings by combining two ferry terminals into one modern, efficient facility.

Implementation of this option would provide large scale operating and capital savings for the corporation, significantly improving its financial outlook. This is something government desperately needs; the brokerage community is demanding. So the Short Ferry strategy is win/win for B.C Ferries and its financial overlords.

But what of those of us who live here? While there is a lot of debate as to whether the creation of a new access artery would be good or bad, it is not debateable that building such a conduit will bring huge changes to Gabriola.

So don’t be lulled, don’t think there is a middle road. There isn’t. The Gabriola lifestyle as we have known it is on the chopping block.

What are you going to do about that?

Dave Neads