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Oppose the BC Liberals’ Massey megabridge

By: 
Lisa Descary

April 14, 2016

Soon after returning from the Paris Climate talks, BC Premier Christy Clark announced that her government was planning a big infrastructure project. Unfortunately, rather than investing in improved public transit or affordable housing, the BC Liberals were going to spend $3.5 billion on a three kilometer long, ten-lane bridge between the Vancouver suburbs of Delta and Richmond. Clark claimed it would benefit the environment, since it would “decrease pollution and benefit commuters by decreasing idling.”

The current Massey Tunnel was slated for upgrades that would have added lanes and a Rapid Transit bus to White Rock—a plan that would have decreased tunnel congestion and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and cost less than 20 per cent of the cost of a mega bridge. But these improvements never happened. Then, with almost no warning, the BC Liberals announced their plan to tear out the tunnel and replace it with a giant bridge.

Tankers, traffic and tolls

Why was a bridge suddenly better than a tunnel? The answer, of course, is that Christy Clark’s big business friends in Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) wanted the tunnel removed. Freedom of Information requests found that since 2012, PMV had been lobbying for the tunnel’s removal, so that dredging could be done to allow deep draft tankers access further upriver. These would include Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) mega-tankers that would access the newly planned terminals in Richmond and Delta, and coal freighters that could access Surrey Fraser docks. 

This is a concern because despite the Clark government’s claims, LNG is not a green energy alternative. Research has shown that GHG emissions from fracking, liquefying and transporting LNG are so high that fracked natural gas rivals coal in its effects on climate change. This is one of the main reasons that environmentalists are opposing the Massey Bridge project.

Christy Clark’s promise of reducing traffic jams and cutting emissions by building a bridge is typical of the misinformation you would expect from a Premier who appointed a climate change denier to oversee her government’s climate plan! Urban planners have long known that building extra lanes of bridges or highways merely encourages people to drive those routes, and produces more congestion, not less. Only the addition of rapid transit actually reduces congestion. Climate research has also found that over 50 years, carbon emissions increase by about 150 thousand tons for each mile long lane of highway built.

Even if the environmental impact of this bridge were addressed, it would still be problematic for working people. The Massey Bridge is designed to be a P3: a public-private partnership. This means that borrowing costs for the project will be much greater than those for a purely public project, as lower government interest rates are not available. The huge cost, and likely cost overruns will be borne by the public, while business makes guaranteed profits.

The government plans to make this a toll bridge to help pay for the huge cost. While some environmentalists think tolls will reduce GHGs, we should oppose tolls, as they are a regressive flat tax that disproportionately hurts lower income people. Tolls download costs onto workers who have little choice but to use the bridge to commute, given the dismal state of public transit. Improving transit by adding LRT or Rapid Bus service would help both workers and the environment.

Resistance

Fraser Voices, a group of Richmond activists has been building a campaign against the bridge project. The group has participated in several actions in Richmond and Vancouver, including the March 3 rally outside Trudeau’s Vancouver climate consultations, where Fraser Voices members spoke.

Only by building a movement that puts pressure on our governments can we ensure that they spend public money on real priorities—better transit and fully funded public services—rather than megaprojects that fuel climate change.

For those in the Lower Mainland, you can find out about upcoming actions or contact the group on the Fraser Voices Facebook page, or via Fraser Voices supporters Wilderness Committee or Council of Canadians.

Join the conference Ideas for Real Change: Marxism 2016, including the session “How do we get real change?”, “Colonialism, climate crisis and Indigenous resistance,” and “Climate justice now.” Register today and join/share on facebook.

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