The province will study the potential for a fixed link between Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast that could allow motorists to drive to Gibsons and beyond without boarding a ferry.
“Highway access is important for attracting tourism and investment,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Friday, adding there’s considerable interest from local residents.
“They really feel like their beautiful part of the province is being hindered somewhat, held back from realizing its full potential.”
Options to be considered include bridges providing a direct route along the coast, as well as punching a new highway from Squamish northwest around Jervis Inlet and then southwest to Powell River. That route would partly follow existing logging roads and replace what is now a journey requiring two ferries.
The costs and benefits of each option are to be assessed and compared to ferry services.
The province will hire consultants to carry out the study, with that work to get underway later this year.
Sunshine Coast advocates of a fixed link assume it would be tolled to recoup the costs.
Oddvin Vedo, a retired economic development officer in Sechelt, says there are multiple routes that could cross Howe Sound to connect from either Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons – over either Bowen or Gambier islands – or from Porteau Cove to Port Mellon.
He said the Porteau Cove route would be easier because of shallow seabed. It would require a new 20-kilometre road on the north side, but would avoid running traffic through downtown Gibsons and avert a fight with the Islands Trust over parkland on Gambier.
Vedo dismisses the long, rugged route around Jervis Inlet as an “impossible” dream.
But he thinks a direct link using a combination of a floating bridge and a submerged floating tunnel will prove viable.
“The ferries cannot compete with the fixed link,” Vedo said.
He argues it would be a boon to tourism and economic development, opening up road access to more industrial land that has become scarce in Metro Vancouver.
The Sunshine Coast Regional District wrote to Stone in July urging him to study the options.
Not everyone is expected to embrace the idea.
“There are going to be strong opinions on both sides,” Stone predicted.
He named area MLA Jordan Sturdy to gauge community sentiment.
Talk of a fixed link between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island has been going on for decades.
But the province fanned the idea of replacing some ferries with bridges last year when it commissioned a feasibility study for a fixed link between Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island.
NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena said she’s aware of some support on the Sunshine Coast for a fixed link, but added it fits the provincial government’s pattern of neglecting BC Ferries.
“They will do anything to avoid investing in the ferry system,” she said.
Potential crossings of Howe Sound outlined by Oddvin Vedo on his blog.