Letter: In response to bridge letters in Feb. 16 Sounder

Tuesday, February 23 2016

After at least two long letters in the Sounder explaining why the report on the bridge is mistaken, bridge proponents appear to have missed the main lesson of the exercise. Namely, poor process almost always leads to a poor result. The shenanigans pulled in the report by MOTI, according to the pro bridge side, are very similar to the kind of disrespectful process the pro bridge side used to get the report in the first place. 

Just a few examples: As reported in the Sounder, telephone records obtained by the FOI process indicate that the yes campaign was almost certainly either initiated by MOTI or seriously involved the ministry from the onset. The odd ceiling of 600 yes signatures is a further indication of this. Having decided to collude with a minister who we all agree doesn’t care about Gabriola, the yes side then attempted to bamboozle us all with a PR blitz. The battle of the petitions and the Vancouver Island University study indicate that claims of broad support for the bridge idea were just PR bull, but we don’t really know for sure, because the yes side didn’t ask for a report that included all Gabriolans.

The yes side repeatedly rejected any involvement by the Island Trust, arguing that building a bridge is a MOTI matter. This is like saying that if the federal government decided to bulldoze several sections of the interior of the island to put in an international airport, nobody on Gabriola gets to have an opinion because this is a federal matter. It is simply outrageous process to override the locally elected government on an issue that is at the core of the mandate of the Island Trust, i.e., is pivotal to the “preserve and protect” instructions that the Trust has been given by the vast majority of the province. Furthermore, the IT is provincially mandated. The yes side had every opportunity to run one or more yes candidates in the IT elections and convince us all that a bridge was a good idea.

The yes side has patently refused to address any issues about the bridge excepting their own concerns about the direct engineering costs. This is no way to build a community consensus. There is a whole list of very serious concerns about a bridge, and for the yes side to arrogantly dismiss these concerns because they don’t care about them is exactly what the yes side is complaining MOTI did to the report. 

Bridge advocates have insisted that the bridge issue boils down to comparing the immediate costs of bridge construction with long-term costs of operating a ferry. With all due respect to the expertise of some pro bridge advocates, this is not a fair comparison. The cost of the bridge must also take into account the income that would be lost by not investing the immediate cost of the bridge over the thirty-year life of the project. A reasonable estimate of the return on a standard investment portfolio over thirty years is that your money will double at least twice (assuming you leave all the returns in the portfolio). So, even if we accept the downsized cost of 150 million dollars suggested in the Sounder, the return on a 150 million dollar investment would likely be more than 450 million dollars (that’s today’s dollars). The lost investment income has to be included in the cost estimate of the bridge. If the bridge was built over thirty years then the costing would be similar to the ferry costing (excepting that the bridge couldn’t be used, so it still isn’t a fair comparison). Of course the bridge might have economic benefits that balance some of this cost, but we are never going to know, because the yes side didn’t demand that a comprehensive economic impact study be done. Properly comparing an immediate capital outlay with a long-term operating outlay is a complicated task that even the MOTI report apparently didn’t attempt. 

I am out of space so will conclude with the issue of two lanes or four lanes. I know of two prominent pro bridge advocates on Gabriola who envision building a super-ferry terminal on the south end of Gabriola. Given that MOTI most likely also has this vision, you can’t complain that a four-lane bridge is unnecessary and overprices the project because it would be completely irresponsible for MOTI to build a two-lane bridge if they are secretly projecting that the bridge will need to serve a super-ferry terminal. My guess is that servicing a super terminal was MOTI’s only interest in the project. Once the yes side decided to join hands with MOTI to circumvent opposition, they were signing up for a four-lane bridge. Crappy process begets crappy results.

~ Peter Danenhower