The Fixed Link Option

The notion of a fixed link to Vancouver Island surfaces from time to time in the media. It is an appealing idea. For as long as we have been on the wrong side of a body of water, we have resented paying the boatman to cross. Why not build a bridge, or a tunnel, or just fill the darn thing in and walk? With a bit of ingenuity, surely we should be able to save time and/or money.

To be sure, often this dream has been achieved. And sometimes not. Earthquakes and floods (to say nothing of war) mean that sometimes we are left with nothing but a tourist attraction (see Ponte de Avignon). Fortunately, the more spectacular engineering failures such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, are rare.

Then there is what might be called the middle ground. The new Port Mann toll bridge will cost an estimated $3.3 billion when the project has been completed. With regard to the foregoing time and money criteria (and falling icicles aside), the jury is still out on this one.

As to the fixed link proposals, the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has helpfully posted a review of the studies done to date, together with and assessment of these schemes, titled “Potential Fixed Link to Vancouver Island

It notes past studies, and details the options applied elsewhere (bored tunnel, submerged floating tunnel, floating bridge, cable stayed bridge) with reference to local conditions: weather, marine traffic, depth and bottom stability, and earthquake considerations. The conclusion follows:

“The cost of building a fixed link using the technologies available right now is estimated to be approximately $15 billion and could not be borne by government alone. Any private-sector interest undertaking such a project would require a return of 12-20%. This would have to be raised through tariffs that would not only cover the cost of construction, but also annual maintenance and rehabilitation (estimated at $90 million per year) and insurance over the 100-year expected service life of the structure.

With these considerations in mind, tolls on a fixed link constructed using available technologies would be six to ten times current ferry fares.

The costs of a fixed-link construction project may not be affordable for the provincial government to undertake for many years to come. As technology advances, the ministry would be willing to look at any proposals the private sector brings forward.”


Updates: There was a recent announcement that “the Government of B.C. will study the costs and benefits of a possible highway link between the Sunshine Coast and Metro Vancouver”. This was to include review of possible “bridge connections along the coast”.

See also the Gabriola Island Fixed Link Feasibility Study.