Viewpoint: Highway to Squamish?

by Peter Behr Third Crossing Society’s idea of a “highway” to Squamish sounds like a great idea. Powell River could certainly use some economic stimulus. A dream of more tourists, a second way to reach Squamish/Whistler and Vancouver, avoiding frustrating costly ferry trips, and hosting through traffic from Vancouver Island north is enticing. But the road to Squamish will not achieve this.

I spend a lot of time hiking the backcountry through which such a “highway” would pass. The average person may dream of a four-lane access like Vancouver Island highway. The reality would be a winding two-lane mountain road like Duffy Lake Road. Fantasy: a two-hour drive to the Lower Mainland. Reality: a winding four-to-five-hour summer-only road.

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There is a huge amount of snow in the inland mountains and valleys. People need to understand that the climate inland is radically different from that on the coast. All Powell River’s rain becomes snow from November through May. Today there is still deep snow at 1,000 metres elevation. Emma Lake is frozen this July. The “highway” would need regular snow and ice removal eight months a year. The cost would be astronomical. Ice and snow would discourage travel.

I talked to experienced road builders not involved in the proposal who just shook their heads. One pointed out the high avalanche danger of cutting a road into those steep mountains, both in its construction and during spring thaws. That’s another huge maintenance cost. A couple of publicized deaths from avalanche or snow storms would seriously discourage use of the “highway.”

Then there is the cost of emergency services. Getting communication (no cell coverage), ambulances, medevac helicopters, tow trucks, and police services into remote locations is a very expensive and risky business. Flat tires, empty gas tanks, ice-caused collisions, avalanches, or snow storms can cause serious emergencies when help can be hours, or in stormy weather, even days away.

As we have seen many times, the estimated cost of a government project often balloons in construction phases. A half-billion dollars can quickly become a billion.

I know Europeans have built roads and tunnels through mountains in Switzerland that link Germany and Italy. But those highways service over 80 million people, not a little town of 20,000 and a few thousand North Islanders. We taxpayers have to consider cost to benefit ratio regarding population served. These dollars could be better spent on education, health care or on improving ferry service.

Hopefully the creative residents of Powell River can come up with a less costly and more realistic proposal to help the local economy. I applaud the motives of those wanting a road but it is simply far too expensive, impractical and even dangerous. If built, it would not bring a lot of traffic to town nor would it be a practical way to reach Squamish or Vancouver most of the year. Let’s find another better idea worth supporting to build our local economy.

Peter Behr, a 40-year resident of Powell River, spends much of his leisure time hiking and snowshoeing in our backcountry.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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