Why the Sunshine Coast may not need a new highway
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As far back as the 1970’s there were plans in the works to create a highway along the Sunshine Coast paralleling the power lines. The first section, up the hill and out of Langdale, was completed, but the remainder of the “bypass” remained a plan, gathering dust.

Nowadays we experience the surges coming from full ferries, streaming into Gibsons, more and more often, as the population and the popularity of the Sunshine Coast as a tourism destination grows. Reed Rd has turned into the unofficial bypass, and certain bottle necks like the School Rd intersection, and the section of highway between Henry Rd and Lower Rd can be quite busy at times.

Davis Bay is a bit of a slog to get through and, being at sea level, it is just a matter of time until either large dykes or a planned (or unplanned) retreat are in order.

Traffic through Sechelt, especially at Dolphin and Wharf, can be quite heavy at times.

Once we get past Sechelt, traffic isn’t as big an issue, although there are some sections, especially in the Pender Harbour area, where the highway has many challenging turns.

It's clear that we have some problem spots, but do we need a whole new highway? I would say maybe not.

Here are my solutions for the current highway:

  • I think the right lane of the current bypass should be continued to past Gibsons, merging at Henry Road. The resultant traffic light will slow traffic down there and enable people to cross the highway safely. Another alternative is linking up Reed Rd and Highland as a bypass and creating a major intersection at Lower Rd to slow things down and take some volume out of that stretch.

  • I think that the highway needs to be routed up Field Rd and turn left by the airport to merge Hilltop Rd with Havies Rd. This would bypass the low-lying area of Davis Bay and add a second crossing to Chapman Creek, while not adding much distance (have a look on a map).

  • Let’s create a safe active transportation corridor along the whole Coast with a continuous network of safe bicycle/walking paths.

  • I don’t think I have an easy solution for Dolphin/Wharf (good luck with that, Sechelt).

  • Let’s implement some of the measures suggested by the MoTI corridor review, while not others. Implement the left turn lanes. Let's not enhance Davis Bay and Selma Park if we need to bypass it in the future anyway. Let's not build an overtaking lane just to have cars screaming into Gibsons at 100 km/h.

  • Appreciate the rest of our "goat trail" for what it is, a reason to keep property prices affordable north of Sechelt, and a lovely scenic drive.

Here are further arguments why we may not need a new highway:

 

  1. The volume simply isn’t there. Yes, coming off a busy ferry you may take 10 minutes to get through Gibsons, but it’s nowhere close to trying to make it in Downtown Vancouver from Georgia and Bute to Burrard. Spending millions to save you 15 minutes between Langdale and Sechelt when, and only when, there is a ferry pulse, is not something the Province will be willing to entertain, and I see their point. The only other place where volume is occasionally an issue is the Dolphin and Wharf intersection in Sechelt, but I’ve never had to wait more than 2 lights.

  2. The volume may never be there. Why, you ask? Because of technology. In 20 years, I believe that obtaining a driver’s license will be a luxury. Only those insistent on driving their own car will do so and pay the higher insurance, take the higher risk and own their own cars. Driverless vehicles will revolutionize transportation. Why own your own vehicle when you can get on your app, request a pickup and have a vehicle parked by your door within 2 minutes? It’ll take you where you need to go for the fraction of the cost it would cost you now, because you don’t need to pay a driver, the car can be electric, the insurance rates are cheap because automated driving is safer, and upkeep and maintenance can be reduced through quantities of scale and a fully automated system. Public transport will be easily accessible and ubiquitous, as you don’t need to pay drivers anymore. Mode sharing will be easy and seamless. Vehicle to vehicle communications, as well as faster processing, will allow more vehicles to drive safely on the same roads, while reducing the actual number of vehicles on the road due to ride sharing and public transportation that is quick and efficient. Multi-lane highways will be a relic, as all the cars will be driving seamlessly at the same speed with minimal distance from the next. I could go on, but I would rather see money spent on active transportation infrastructure, and mode sharing infrastructure, than to put in a highway for billions we may never need.

  3. Dangerous areas can be addressed. There are several areas that can be considered dangerous on Hwy 101, and the corridor review done lately identified a number of them. In front of the trailer park at Poplars there is no opportunity for pedestrians to cross the highway in order to, for example, get to the bus stop. Joe Rd, Largo Rd, and Flume Rd intersections in Roberts Creek are an issue. Some of those are now getting left turn lanes. We don’t need a new highway to address it.

  4. The needed return on investment. As nice as it sounds, a highway will need to have some sort of reasonable return on investment for the Province for it to make sense. In what way? Increased density. If you want a highway, we better have the plans in place to create the density needed for one, and in a time frame that is realistic and achievable. If you want a four-lane highway, you better have plans in place that look like North and West Vancouver. We are a long way away from that, and we are just starting on a regional growth strategy, which may determine that we may never want to get that dense.

  5. The environmental impact. Carving a highway along the whole Sunshine Coast will create a large break in wildlife corridors, create concentration and bundling of water flows, add noise levels and use thousands of tons of GHG’s to produce, and more to maintain. The accessibility of the upper slopes will suddenly cause development pressures, and off-ramps will need to lead somewhere, creating increased traffic at currently quiet spots.

  6. Community impacts. This will certainly change the vibe of upper Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay forever, and recreation, as well as tourism opportunities in our up-slope areas, will be affected.

  7. The impact on property values. Anyone thinking that adding a highway will create better affordability is sorely mistaken. This will be a bonanza for those already owning property, as the proximity to the ferry is a huge factor in property pricing. There is a reason the average home price in Roberts Creek is twice that of Pender Harbour, even though Pender Harbour has more waterfront, more stunning views, more recreation opportunities (like lakes) and better weather. A highway will up-end the economics in place considerably, and increase property values past Sechelt especially. Anyone thinking they could afford a home on the North Coast because it’s cheaper, think again.

I am approaching this with an open mind, and if the community resoundingly says that we want a new highway, I will of course endorse it, but I argue that a thorough conversation has not been had, and many people have not thought of the potential repercussions of adding this major piece of infrastructure. So let's approach this cautiously and with all angles in mind.