A four-lane overland route has been chosen to improve the West Vancouver segment of Highway 99, the Ministry of Transportation announced in a press release on Friday, July 16.
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon turned down the alternative proposal favoured by the District of West Vancouver to construct a two-lane tunnel. The West Vancouver Council argued that a tunnel would preserve recreation areas and is more environmentally friendly than the overland highway.
West Vancouver has vowed to continue to fight the decision.
Falcon believes that the four-lane overland route will be safer, last longer, and cost less that the one-kilometre, two-lane tunnel option.
"As transportation minister, my number one priority has to be safety," explained Falcon in the release.
"The various engineering studies, the results of our community consultation and visits to the area have produced overwhelming evidence suggesting that the overland route is the safest option. It was a difficult decision because the District of West Vancouver preferred the two-lane tunnel option, however, I could not choose the option that was the least safe and was not supported by technical studies by leading external experts."
According to the release, the tunnel option was projected to have double the number of fatal crashes compared to the overland route. Accidents in a tunnel would also be harder for emergency crews to reach.
The overland route will cost $40 million dollars less that the tunnel option and $6.5 million less to operate and maintain over 25 years. The overland route will accommodate traffic growth for 50 years, compared to 25 years for the tunnel.
"The district of West Vancouver was asking us to spend approximately one-third of our $600 million budget on one kilometre of road," Falcon commented.
"That wouldnt be fair to other corridor communities like Squamish and Whistler, nor would it be fiscally responsible for provincial taxpayers."
A number of contentious issues were brought up during the two-year consultation process.
West Vancouver Mayor Ron Wood accused the province of pressuring an independent land appraiser to undervalue the land in the proposed development area. The appraiser determined that the land was worth $21 million, while Wood said their municipal assessments show the land is worth $58 million.
Falcon said Woods comments were "frankly unbelievable."
In another issue, brought up in the Vancouver Sun, Falcon accused Wood and West Vancouvers councillors of contradicting themselves by claiming to be concerned about the environmental impact of the overland route while at the same time having their own plans to develop the area.
According to The Sun, the West Vancouver community plan would see 25 per cent of the area becoming a residential area.
The Sun quoted David Stuart, West Vancouver municipal manager, insisting that there were no plans to develop the area in the next 10-20 years, and that their concerns were purely about the environmental and recreational impact of the overland route.
In the provincial press release, Falcon stated that both options had environmental impacts that could be mitigated through a detailed design process.
"Just as West Vancouver would work hard to mitigate the environmental impact of their future development plans calling for 1,200 luxury homes, a school, and a golf course in the same area, the province will also make every effort to minimize environmental impacts," Falcon said in the release.
Ministry of Transportation analysis indicates that the overland route will have an impact on 1.57 hectares of "blue listed" species, affect 0.68 hectares of swamp habitat, and will require the relocation of approximately 400 metres of the Baden Powell Trail. It will also require the removal of some Arbutus trees.
The tunnel option would have had an impact on 1.64 hectares of blue listed species, affected 0.11 hectares of swamp habitat, and required the relocation of approximately 200 metres of the Baden Powell Trail and 150 metres of the Trans Canada Trail. It would also have required the building of two additional bridges.
The overland route will begin east of Eagle Ridge and continue up-slope from the existing highway, which will serve local traffic once the new route is completed.
Construction of the overland route is projected to begin in 2005 and finish in late 2007.