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Poised For Growth

VANCOUVER, B. C. - Canada's Pacific Gateway offers Asian shippers the most direct route between Asia and North America, thanks to B. C.'s "integrated, secure, reliable transportation network" consisti...

VANCOUVER, B. C. –Canada’s Pacific Gateway offers Asian shippers the most direct route between Asia and North America, thanks to B. C.’s “integrated, secure, reliable transportation network” consisting of world class airports, seaports, railways, roadways and border crossings.

That was the observation of Pacific Gateway Branch executive director, Lisa Gow, when she spoke at a recent Western Transportation Advisory Council (WESTAC) conference.

“B. C.’s ports are Asia’s closest ports of entry on the West Coast of North America -up to 58 hours closer than L. A. and Long Beach,” said Gow.

The executive director was one of four on a WESTAC panel that discussed surface freight, a discussion that included provincial transportation representatives from Alberta and Manitoba, as well as southern B. C.’s transportation authority, TransLink.

The Pacific Gateway’s targets for 2020 are ambitious, according to Gow, who predicts it will handle nine million TEU’s of container traffic (from 2.5 million in 2007); 95 million tonnes of bulk and break-bulk shipments (from 77 million in 2007); 28.4 million air passengers through YVR in 2007 (from 17.5 million in 2007); and 441,000 tonnes of air cargo (from 225,444 tonnes in 2007).

Pacific Gateway’s $15 billion in project investments are intended to expand and enhance port, rail, road, and airport infrastructure, said Gow. About $6.5 billion will be allocated to roads, bridges and overpasses while $3.7 billion will go towards port enhancements and $2 billion for rail upgrades.

B. C. road infrastructure projects include a northern corridor, with upgrades planned for Hwy. 97, otherwise known as the “Cariboo Connector” ($200 million federal/provincial funding over five years); improvements to Hwy. 16 from Silver to McBride ($3.4 million federal/provincial funding); and resurfacing east of Terrace ($10 million in B. C. funding).

Other Lower Mainland projects that are still in their early stages, but have successfully secured provincial/federal funding, include: a new Pitt River Bridge ($198 million); the South Fraser Perimeter Road ($1 billion); and a twin for the Port Mann Bridge on Hwy. 1 ($1.5 billion).

Also benefitting from a successful federal/provincial partnership are: the Kicking Horse Canyon, a three-phase project ($341.5 million); a Border Infrastructure Program ($288 million); and upgrades to the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor ($307 Million).

TransLink’s take

Another member of the WESTAC panel and a prominent partner in the promotion of the B. C. Gateway is TransLink. Tom Prendergast, the new CEO of TransLink, has an impressive background, having worked for some of the most prominent transit systems in the world, including Chicago, New York, Long Island, and London, U. K.

He discussed the challenges of TransLink’s expansive service area, and offered a growth strategy that includes major upgrades to the road network.

“In the coming 30 years we can expect 1.3 million more people and 600,000 more jobs in this region. Much of that growth will occur in southern and eastern communities,” he said of TransLink’s complex de-centralized growth challenge. “The plans we make to address this growth to keep the people, the goods, and the services moving require coordination with the B. C. government’s vision and the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy. Our 30-year strategy, Transport 2040, will be delivered in a series of rolling 10- year plans.”

TransLink’s ‘Transport 2040’ has a number of major infrastructure projects underway, one being the Golden Ears Bridge, a six-lane P3 project that will be tolled, connecting Langley with Maple Ridge. The bridge is expected to be complete by next summer at a cost of $808 million.

“The Golden Ears Bridge and associated road network will be an economic boon to the communities it serves and provides an alternative to the Port Mann Bridge,” said Prendergast.

Major road construction is also underway, including the Fraser Highway widening (located in Surrey) estimated to cost $45 million, and the Coast Meridian Overpass (Port Coquitlam), estimated to cost $60 million.

Still in the planning stages are the North Fraser Perimeter Road (New Westminster) estimated to cost $60 million, and the Murray- Clarke connector (Port Moody), at an estimated cost of $25 million. Other projects include the North Shore Trade Area Study, and the Pattullo Bridge Replacement (a Surrey/New Westminster connection), the latter of which is still having its transportation needs analyzed.

Prendergast noted that one of the most vital roles that TransLink plays in goods movements is to provide an alternative to driving, which includes public transit. He noted that ridership has risen by 38% in an eight-year period, alleviating road congestion.

Projects being considered for the future by TransLink, include plans to improve the efficiency of Lower Mainland Highways 91 and 99 for goods movement.

“We are looking at installing a roadside sign with real-time congestion information, to alert truckers to road conditions in time to choose an alternate route,” Prendergast said. “We’ve been working with Port Metro Vancouver on a system to track trucks coming into Roberts Bank using a Radio Frequency Identification Device, so the port can handle the reservations system more efficiently and the trucking industry can save time and fuel costs while reducing unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. An important part of this project is the construction of a staging area for trucks that can also be used for commercial enforcement and inspections.”

TransLink has contributed to improving the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor, in response to longer trains and the consequent impact on local communities. One initiative is the Integrated Regional Signal System (IRSS), which can show drivers when trains are coming so they can divert to other crossings, according to Prendergast. IRSS also allows municipalities to synchronize traffic signals within boundaries, coordinate traffic signals with other cities, and automatically trigger special timing plans to deal with traffic flows and rail crossings.

Alberta copes with rising population

Alberta has its own unique transportation challenges, according to another member of the WESTAC panel. Keir Packer, senior policy advisor for freight, Alberta Transportation and Trade, attributes a dramatic increase in Alberta’s population, which grew by almost 23% between 1997 and 2007, for the province’s infrastructure challenge.

“The Premier’s initiative to manage growth is to expand the capacity of Alberta’s highway system to address growth pressures in order to efficiently move people and goods,” said Packer.

Packer discussed two major urban initiatives, one being the Calgary Ring Road project, which is well underway, with the northwest portion expected to open this fall. The northeast P3 portion is expected to be complete by near the end of the year.

A “function” plan is essentially complete for the southwest portion, he said, and south and west portion planning studies have been initiated and are expected to be complete this year. Construction scheduling is yet to be determined for both the southeast and southwest sections.

The other major urban initiative is the Edmonton Ring Road. The southwest and southeast portion are complete, and construction has begun on the northwest component, which will connect Hwy. 16 in Edmonton’s west end to Manning Drive in the east end. Completion is expected in three years, according to Packer. “The goal is to have the ring road complete to freeway status by 2015.”

Packer also discussed continued spending in the area of Wood Buffalo-Fort McMurray, despite the recent economic downturn in oil sand development. “Oil sands spending is not over,” he confirmed. Twinning is underway on Hwy. 63 – from Hwy. 55 to Fort McMurray – at an estimated cost of about $1 billion. Packer said the area is enjoying a record construction season, with $192 million spent in 200
8 for major projects and upgrades.

Alberta is also involved with the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor initiative. Infrastructure upgrades to promote the gateway include the twinning of Hwy. 1 through the Banff and Yoho National Park, as well as upgrades to 41 Ave. in Edmonton, according to Packer.

The north-south trade corridor is also a major trade consideration for Alberta, with about 90% of the 1,170 km corridor now twinned.

Recent work includes twinning Hwy. 4 at Milk River, which includes new highway and railway bridges over the Milk River.

The project is expected to be completed this fall at an estimated cost of about $60 million. Packer also indicated that there may be twinning from the Montana border to Beaverlodge, west of Grande Prairie, by 2011. “Alberta is working with other levels of government and partners to help develop an efficient and effective road, rail and air transportation system,” said Packer.

Manitoba’s role as inland port

Manitoba also has unique transportation challenges and offerings. The province is considered to be in an ideal position in terms of both the Canadian and North American transportation network, according to the fourth member of the WESTAC panel, John Spacek, the assistant deputy minister (Transportation Policy and Motor Carrier Divisions) Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

“Historically, our geographic location made Manitoba the western pivotal point in the rail and road network serving Canada and major US markets,” he said.

“Manitoba offers a location where both in-transit and domestic cargoes can be processed and moved expeditiously to other continental destinations,” added Spacek, who also mentioned the merits of Manitoba’s converging Class 1 rail assets, its Arctic deep water ports, and the national highway system network. “In all of this, Manitoba’s highways are realizing some of the fastest truck growth in the country.”

Spacek also commented on Manitoba’s international trade, with exports to the US accounting for 72% of overall exports, a growth of almost 40% from 1998 to 2006, at a value in 2007 in excess of $8.3 billion.

But this is not just one-way trade, according to the assistant deputy minister. “Manitoba also imported over $10.5 billion in imports from the US last year. The US accounts for 80% of Manitoba’s imported goods.”

While trade with China has increased almost 600% in the past five years, Manitoba’s two-way trade with Minnesota is still double that of China, the province’s second closest trading partner after the US. Despite the importance of ever-increasing Asia-Pacific trade, Spacek indicated that the majority of the trade moving through Manitoba is “rail-based in-transit traffic.”

“Over three-quarters of rail freight travels through Manitoba to and from other destinations. On the other hand, three-quarters of truck traffic in Manitoba is either interprovincial or carrying Manitoba export and import goods, and it’s growing substantially.”

For example, according to Spacek, annual two-way truck growth over the last five-year period at the Emerson/US border crossing has been 11.5% per year, compared to 6% at the Windsor, Ont. crossing.

“Also, only 41% of the trade going through Emerson is Manitobabased traffic, with the remainder from Alberta; (16% of the traffic) and Saskatchewan (42% of the cross-border traffic). Transport at the border crossing has also caught the attention of the US Department of Transportation, according to Spacek. The DOT Federal Highway Administration forecasts Emerson will reach 25 million tonnes by the year 2020, compared to Windsor, at 35 million tonnes by 2020.

“In fact, US congress and the FHWA have designated Emerson as priority corridor No. 23 out of 90 corridors that they have identified,” said Spacek. “In western Canada, only B. C. has a higher corridor rating at 19.”

Needless to say, border congestion is heavy, and unlike the Pacific Highway US border crossing in B. C., the trucks don’t have a dedicated entry point, and truckers share the lane with every tourist and RV-travelling snowbird. Extreme situations have reported queues as long as a mile, and delays recorded on one Saturday were as high as 3.5 hours.

In some instances, frustrated truckers have been caught attempting to dodge the bottleneck by driving on the shoulder – a dire situation according to Spacek, who calls for federal assistance. “While recent attention has been to alleviate the bottlenecks on our west coast, the next consideration should be where the next tier of investment should be made to enhance efficiencies and alleviate emerging secondary bottlenecks.”

Otherwise, Manitoba is very enthusiastic about its new inland port, or “CentrePort Canada” with 20,000 acres of land ideally situated in Winnipeg, close to railway terminals and the airport. “Already $262 million in public and private funds are committed, going forward for transportation infrastructure development, related to our gateway and this inland port,” said Spacek.


‘Manitoba’s highways are realizing some of the fastest truck growth in the country.’

John Spacek

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