Residents of Gabriola Island are going to be depending on BC Ferries for the foreseeable future, after a new report concluded replacing the service with a bridge would be too expensive to justify.
"There is simply not enough compelling evidence to proceed with further work on a fixed link to Gabriola Island," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone.
"Our goal is ensure coastal communities are connected in an affordable, efficient and sustainable manner. This study shows that continuation of a coastal ferry service for Gabriola Island residents is the best way to achieve that goal."
The government says the engineering report, which was commissioned in 2014, found the cost of a bridge would range between $258 million and $520 million, depending on the route chosen.
The report was commissioned after many islanders signed a petition asking the government to look into building a bridge after BC Ferries cut back service to the island.
The study attempted to measure several social, economic, environmental and cultural factors when determining the impact of a bridge, including travel time, emergency access, property impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, aquatic impacts, archaeological impacts and business growth.
Even with the projected increase in traffic to the island with a bridge, the report estimated the cost of the project would exceed all the estimated benefits by $113 million.
"A fixed link from Vancouver Island to Gabriola Island appears to be technically feasible. However current costs of constructing a fixed link exceed that of the user benefits that have been measured," said the report, which was prepared by CH2M Hill, a multi-national engineering company.
Mixed reaction from islanders
Erik Andersen — the president of the Gabriola Ratepayers Association that led the petition drive asking for the bridge study — was disappointed by the results and questioned some of the assumptions the engineers made.
"Some of these assumptions do not [make sense]. First of all the amount of money to build a bridge has been extremely exaggerated," he said.
He suspects the main reason the project was rejected was financial constraints.
"But I think the minister was told by the finance minister, 'We don't have any room in our budget for this kind of stuff.'"
"There was some hope that [the government] would see this as a project that would be considered to be shovel ready and someone would march off to Ottawa and say, 'We are ready to go Mr. Trudeau, how about helping out?' But it isn't going to be the case."
But not everyone shared his disappointment. Melanie Mamoser. a local trustee for Gabriola on the Islands Trust, welcomed the finding.
"I have to say that I am not surprised. Not only is it contrary to the will of the majority of Gabriola and Mudge islanders, who knew in their hearts that the social and environmental costs of a fixed link would be devastating, but now we know that it doesn't make economic sense either," said Mamoser.
The B.C. government is still looking at replacing ferry service between West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast with a fixed road.