The BC government has decided to study a highway to the Sunshine Coast. Much like the recent Gabriola Island bridge study, I don’t see how a road route to Gibsons/Sechelt will be economically feasible. Let’s look at some of the options, and why I don’t think they’ll work. We’ll start with the route options, and focus on the southern portion of the Sunshine Coast.
- Route A. The first route to consider, is the most visible, and probably one of the most costly. This would consist of three bridges across the mouth of Howe Sound.
- Whytecliff Park (area) in West Vancouver to Crippen Park (area) on Bowen Island. ~2.2km suspension bridge
- West side of Bowen Island to Keats Island. ~2.2km suspension bridge.
- West side of Keats Island to Gibsons. 0.8km suspension bridge.
The route to the first bridge passes through some of West Vancouver’s most expensive real estate. This will either require very expensive land acquisition, or a tunnel, which would also be very expensive. The length of the suspension bridges is among the longest possible for that bridge type. They would have to be built to withstand very high wind speeds in a marine environment. These challenges all add to the cost of these bridges. Islanders on both Bowen and Keats Islands will vigorously campaign against this route (NIMBY). The west side of this route would end in Gibsons, which would again require land acquisitions – fortunately at a lower rate than the West Vancouver side of the bridges. My best guess for the total road distance to be upgraded to highway standard would be around ~20km.
- Route B.
- Route C.The next route would be the all-land route from Squamish to Gibsons via Wood Fibre and Port Mellon. This route would connect Finch Road and Highway 99 in Squamish to Port Mellon. It would require around 43km of new roads constructed along the very steep cliffs of the north/west shores of Howe Sound. At a rough count, there are 40 stream crossings in this stretch which would require flood defences similar to those on the Sea to Sky highway. This route would be very technically challenging to build. While it would connect the Sunshine Coast to the rest of mainland, it may not meet the needs of the community that wants a route to Metro Vancouver instead.
- Route D. There may be a possibility of building a road north from Port Mellon, up the valley and over to another valley to the north before turning east towards Wood Fibre. The elevations on the topographic maps show that this route reaches up to 1000m above sea level, so winter maintenance becomes a concern. The grades would be quite steep as well. Keep in mind that the highest point that the Sea to Sky highway reaches above sea level between West Vancouver and Squamish is around 180m at Horseshoe Bay. The second highest point is at Murrin Provincial Park at around 140m. So this would be more like a mini Coquihalla style highway. Also not cheap.
- Route E. There is also talk of a route around the north end of Jervis Inlet to Powell River. This would be an approximately 180km route, with elevations up to 1400m above sea level. I really don’t see this being built in my lifetime.
The next route is the most likely of all the routes to be built (in my opinion). This route has two bridges connecting to the Sunshine Coast via Anvil Island. These bridges would each be in the neighbourhood of 2km, so again they’re near the upper limit of length for a suspension bridge. This route would feature around 17km of completely new roads and 15km of upgraded roads. This route would also be very expensive due to the two suspension bridges.
Some of the other things to keep in mind:
- The population of the Sunshine Coast Regional District is reported as 25,599 according to Wikipedia
- The population of the Powell River Regional District is reported as 19,599 according to Wikipedia
- The further south, and the shorter the trip from Gibsons to West Vancouver, the more the Sunshine Coast will benefit from a road/bridge. A connection to Squamish will be less valuable than a connection to West Vancouver. The route from Gibsons to downtown Vancouver via Keats and Bowen Islands would be around 40km which is about 6km shorter than the distance from downtown Langley (~46km)
I think that Route D can be outright discarded at this time. The length of the route works against it, especially given the small population it would serve. Route C, while requiring no major bridges, would be very technically challenging to build on steep hill sides, plus it requires a lot of bridges and flash flood defences. Routes A and B both require very expensive bridges. I strongly feel that the study will come back with the same verdict as the Gabriola island study – not economically feasible.