Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says the government is not going to consider tolls as a strategy to fund a new highway for the Sunshine Coast.
The possibility of using tolls for the second route supported by the Highway 101 Society and the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce was one of the questions put to Trevena during a Sept. 10 online meeting with chamber members.
Trevena’s session with the chamber was arranged before the Sept. 4 release of the Highway 101 Corridor Study, but that study and its implications quickly became the focus.
Right off the mark, Trevena had to defend the study against comments that it was just putting lipstick on a pig.
“I wouldn’t say it’s putting lipstick on anything, it is a serious study. It’s a serious study to look at what is needed as well as the future opportunities,” Trevena said.
She also said that while the study means a bypass is still on the table, a full second route is likely not.
“There is a lot of desire for a parallel road to 101 to get the equivalent of the Inland Island Highway for the Sunshine Coast,” Trevena acknowledged. “To be honest, we haven’t seen the need for that yet, but we are continuing, having done the corridor study, to have the discussions, continuing to engage and consult about where and whether a bypass is needed. It’s not something we’d do lightly because we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Asked, “How do we move from studies, studies and more studies to actually taking action?” Trevena said with a network of more than 47,000 kilometres of highway in the province, work like the corridor study is necessary to find out “what needs doing, where it needs doing and where this fits in with other priorities in the province.”
“I think if we were just saying, this is it – we’re not going to do this study, we’re not going to have the consultation, we’re just going to go ahead and build – it might make some people happy [but] make a lot of people feel that we're acting very imprudently,” Trevena said.
Chamber chair John Henderson claimed there’s broad support “based on research that the chamber has done and I know the Highway  Society’s done” for paying for a new highway through tolls.
“A great majority of our community, including the business community, are willing to pay a toll to use a real highway,” Henderson said. “What is your government’s view on such an approach to help fund this vitally important asset?”
Trevena’s response was that the NDP government has been very clear that it does not approve of tolls to fund infrastructure.
“0ne of our first acts at forming government three years ago was to remove the tolls [on Lower Mainland bridges] and we’re not going to start building either toll roads or toll bridges or toll tunnels,” she said.
Although the highway dominated the discussion, questions were raised about BC Ferries, including one from Sechelt councillor and ferry advisory committee member Matt McLean, who asked why the latest ferry service contract did not contain clauses calling for more sailings on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route and classified it as a major route and not a minor route eligible for direct provincial funding.
“Why not meet the demand of this community for more sailings by increasing that service level, and actually funding our route … like you do for every other route, except for the couple that go from the Lower Mainland to the Island?” McLean asked.
Trevena didn’t address why the new contract didn’t include an increase in the minimum sailings, but did say the question of minor versus major is “a volume-based question” and the Sunshine Coast route has a high volume of travel.