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Desolation Sound Marine Park winds its way around the twisted shoreline of the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver. (Dene Moore/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Desolation Sound Marine Park winds its way around the twisted shoreline of the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver. (Dene Moore/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. government examining potential highway link to Sunshine Coast Add to ...

One week after the B.C. government ruled out a bridge to Gabriola Island, the province has awarded a contract to study a potential link to the Sunshine Coast.

The Ministry of Transportation announced Wednesday it has retained civil engineering firm R.F. Binnie and Associates to study the feasibility of a highway link between the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Mainland.

The firm’s final report is expected to be presented to government in the fall. The contract is valued at $250,000.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Sunshine Coast residents have been asking the province to examine the merits of the project.

“When you look at the Sunshine Coast, you clearly can see a tremendous amount of untapped potential that would be realized by a fixed link. So, we decided to undertake the work necessary to do a feasibility analysis looking at the costs and benefits and we’ll see what that report says,” the minister said in an interview.

Bruce Milne, mayor of the Sunshine Coast community of Sechelt, said he’s pleased the study – which was first announced in September – is moving forward. He said BC Ferries has not been providing residents with “an affordable and effective transportation service.”

However, Mr. Milne said a fixed link would “transform” the Sunshine Coast and the idea has drawn mixed reactions.

“Those that have moved here either recently or many years ago precisely because of the quality of life that is not urbanized to the extent that the Lower Mainland is, they’re somewhat cautious and wondering what this link may or may not do,” the mayor said in an interview. “And there’s a number of people [for whom] it can’t come soon enough. They want more growth and they want more development.”

Mr. Milne said the province’s rejection last week of a bridge to Gabriola Island has made him wonder if the “writing is on the wall” for the Sunshine Coast project. In Gabriola’s case, the province said a study found the costs outweighed the benefits. The price tag of the project was estimated to be as high as $520-million.

“Obviously, these are significant capital projects that need to have real benefits attached to them. And I don’t see where that might be on the Sunshine Coast,” Mr. Milne said. “Yes, there’d be some residential and a certain amount of commercial development through fixed links, but I don’t see any really powerful industry drivers here.”

Mr. Stone said he believes the two projects are very different. He said the Sunshine Coast project involves a much larger land mass with a significantly larger population. He said a fixed link to the region would offer new opportunities in such areas as tourism.

Gabriola Island has a population of about 4,000 people. The Sunshine Coast has a population of about 28,000.

Wayne Rowe, the mayor of Gibsons, said his residents have also expressed dissatisfaction with BC Ferries. He said people can spend hours in their cars, waiting for the next sailing.

The ministry said potential solutions that will be explored include bridge connections along the coast, and a highway link around Jervis Inlet. It said the costs and benefits of each option will be compared with existing ferry services.

Mark Collins, vice-president of strategic planning and community engagement at BC Ferries, said it understands communities are sometimes unhappy with its service level. He said the number of sailings it provides is part of its contract with the province.

Mr. Collins said the organization’s on-time performance in the region “is sometimes not great.” He said BC Ferries is on time on the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route in 86 per cent of sailings. During peak traffic flows in the summer, he said on-time performance can suffer but BC Ferries is working to fix that.

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