A vision of connecting the southern Interior to the Sunshine Coast by a more direct overland highway route is a “hot idea” that’s gaining ground, the president of the Third Crossing Society said Friday.
Gary Fribance, president of the society, said they will continue to campaign for the road construction proposal.
“What we’re talking about with the Third Crossing is a new vision for the province,” Fribance said.
Richard Furness, secretary for the Third Crossing Society, appeared before the TNRD board Thursday and reminded them of the changes brought to the Interior by the Coquihalla Highway after its completion 30 years ago.
The society envisions a third highway across the Coast Mountains in addition to Hwy. 16 connecting Prince Rupert and Hwy. 1 to the Lower Mainland.
“We ask that directors remember the Coquihalla and voice their support,” Furness said.
He said the 173-km connector, including a three-kilometre tunnel, could be built for as little as $600 million. Savings in terms of ferry costs would be reduced by $855 million, resulting in no net cost to taxpayers. Alternatively, a toll could be imposed to pay for the road, Furness said.
The society, based in Powell River on the Sunshine Coast, sees its plan as an extension of the provincial government’s current $250,000 study looking at ways of better connecting the Sunshine Coast through a fixed highway link.
At the same time, they also tout major economic benefits for Interior communities with an alternative circle route for highway travellers from the U.S.
Despite the purported benefits to the Interior, the plan drew a varied and somewhat skeptical response from the board, which voted to send a letter of thanks but not a letter of support.
“There is a void in the province,” said Steve Rice, area director for Spences Bridge, referring to highway connections.
“I would think Mr. Stone would love this as a feather in his cap,” said Coun. Tina Lange, alluding to the highways and infrastructure minister from Kamloops. “Put a fire under his ass.”
If the calculations are correct, the project would not cost anyone any money, she added.
“We did not see details,” warned Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine. “This is a scheme that may look wonderful on a map,” he added while questioning the claim of no net cost to taxpayers. The Hwy. 99 corridor alone needs $400 million in upgrades, he said.
Ken Gillis of Pritchard called the no-net-cost claim a pipe dream.
Reached at home in Powell River, Fribance expressed confidence in the group’s plan. The government’s study undertaken by Binnie, a civil engineering firm, is due in November. As well, Vancouver Sea-To-Sky MLA Jason Sturdy is consulting at the community level to gather feedback.
“We’ve had some deep conversations with B.C. Ferries, so it’s a hot subject,” Fribance said.
The third crossing route would tie into Hwy. 99 at Brackendale, just north of Squamish, skirting past Mt. Tantalus while heading north to Glendinning Provincial Park, where it would turn west before heading south and down a peninsula to the coast. TNRD chairman John Ranta, a coach driver for 35 years, suggested a preferred option might be to connect instead with Hwy. 99 at Pemberton, an alternativfe that drew interest from Fribance.