Wednesday, August 29, 2007

They say the road to an election is paved with…. Good intentions and maybe a bit more pavement!

Roads, roads, roads, everyone it seems wants to see some new blacktop in their area.

It used to be that prior to an election all the highways in a riding would get a fresh coat of asphalt, now it seems we’ll just make plans to build new ones.

Two separate road projects are making the news these days, even though electoral destiny is still a fair ways off.

A road to connect Kitimat with Houston is again on the burner as local politicians scramble to proclaim their interest in the route that would provide an alternative to Highway 16 and its windy route through Smithers to Terrace. Called the Coastal Connector and tied in with the Coastal Utility Corridor, the catharsis on this project of course was this spring’s flooding situation that closed Highway 16 around Terrace in both directions for a number of days.

The other road construction dream is the much discussed road to Port Simpson, a combination of bridges and blacktop that will check in at over 72 million dollars and provide a fixed link between Prince Rupert and its airport and on to Lax Kw’alaams. It’s been the frequent topic of Mayor Herb Pond and he once again has touted it as being “too practical to ignore”.

At one point grand designs were provided showcasing a huge suspension bridge spanning the harbour to Digby Island, but as the years progressed and the economy declined they became icons of a past age.
The recent production of a Community plan has provided a sample of the route of any potential fixed link to Digby and beyond (page 45, figure 11, from Quality of Life Community Plan).

The project has since been reborn as the Tsmishian Peninsula fixed link project, and has in the past been linked to the desire of the Alaska marine Highway System to cut down on its travel times between Ketchikan and British Columbia, by having its ferry dock further north from Prince Rupert, close to Lax Kw’alaams providing that proper road access to Prince Rupert was in place.

The fact that the revised highway plan includes linking the First Nations community of Lax Kw’alaams with the highway system may actually be the ace in the hole as they say for this projects potential development. Allowing for sourcing of funding on a number of governmental levels.

It will be interesting to watch how these twin highway projects progress over the next few years. Whether these potential roads become actual kilometers of blacktop, or just the talking points of politicians.

We provide the background pieces on both from the Daily News and the Northern View below:

Appetite is not yet there for shorter alternative to Highway 16 says Coons
By Christian Webber
The Daily News
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Pages one and three

North Coast MLA Gary Coons has attended a meeting in Kitimat that had the potential to pull together the whole region to speak as one about a slew of proposed projects.

Coons went to Kitimat at the beginning of the month along with representatives from Terrace, Kitimat, Houston, Smithers and some industry leaders for a meeting to discuss the practicality and desirability of what is being termed “The Coastal Connector Highway” and a related project the “Coastal Utility Corridor”.

The concern is that the Coastal Connector Highway, which would follow the utilities route between Houston and Kitimat, would reduce traffic and tourism to Smithers, Houston and the two Hazeltons, because it would provide a shorter route to Prince Rupert and the coast than Highway 16.

“The utilities corridor is a great concept and it is something that is necessary I believe and it was agreed upon by all the communities there,” said Coons.

He said the Coastal Connector is a concept that may be a bit before its time.

Some communities expressed concern at the prospect of losing business opportunities if such a road was built. However, Coons said that in the years to come, as Kitimat and Prince Rupert develop into larger communities, the road could be something that becomes viable.

The meeting featured a presentation by Vic Maskulak, of the KT Industrial Development Society. It outlined work that had been done, to date, on both projects, including reports, and meetings with government and industry leaders.

To some degree Maskulak was really pushing the Corridor and the Connector, said Coons.

“Pushing it as something that should be done for the region, he has been doing this for a long time, a lot of research, it is the initial phase of strategizing, something for the region which needs to be done,” said Coons.

Coons said that this first stage of development planning is vital to the democratic process.

“It helps regional leaders and First Nations communicate, this in turn means that those projects that are being pursued address the priorities of the region as a whole, rather than just one community or area,” said Coons.

He said many of those attending the meeting were in favor of the Coastal Utility Corridor more than the Coastal Connector Highway. The Utility Corridor concept incorporates proposed projects like Pacific Northern Gas’s new gas line, and a power line into a common utilities corridor that would provide cost and transportation savings.

The proposed highway would probably be much more beneficial to communities like Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert that it would be to other communities in the Northwest, said Coons.

“Even the benefits that would accrue to these communities may not be enough to offset the financial and environmental costs of building a highway of this magnitude. A project like this would need to be part of a larger strategic development plan,” said Coons.

Northwest comes together to discuss Coastal Connector
By Shaun Thomas/ Malcolm Baxter
The Northern View
Aug 08 2007

Following a meeting of Northwest municipal leaders in Kitimat last week, Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond said that he is unable to throw his support behind the idea of a highway between Houston and Kitimat unless it was done in conjunction with a proposed energy corridor to run pipelines and energy lines to the coast.

“There could be good case made for the energy corridor, the pipelines and those sorts of things, and I certainly don’t have any experience on which I could comment. If the road becomes an easy addition onto that, then so be it. If the region is looking to pour a lot of energy and money into improving transportation, I’m not sure that would be very high on my priority list. I think there are other things we can be working on,” he said after a July 31 meeting that focused on the Coastal Connector proposal and included Pembina pipeline project manager Mike Massecar and representatives from Prince Rupert, Houston, Smithers, Terrace and Kitimat.

“For me it is really dependent on what is really driving the issue. If they need a good route to put some pipeline through and you can easily tack a road onto it than that is one thing, but I would hate to think that a large portion of the highway budget would go into that project.”

Noting that the proposed road would clearly have economic implications for communities like Smithers and the Hazeltons, which the shorter Houston-Kitimat route would bypass completely, Pond said he would seek more information on the specifics of a new road link before getting behind the idea.

“It really comes down to who is going to pay for it,” he said.

“If it is not coming out of the public purse in a large way then more power to everybody, but if it is something that drains very limited resources for transportation I would have to be asking much more serious questions about it.”

North Coast MLA Gary Coons, who attended the meeting, echoed the sentiments of the Mayor.

“The proposed highway would probably be much more beneficial to communities like Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert, than it would be to other communities in the Northwest, and even the benefits that would accrue to these communities may not be enough to offset the financial and environmental costs of building a highway of this magnitude.”

“A project like this would need to be part of a larger strategic development plan.”

While he pointed out that he too had concerns of the impacts such a road would have on his community, Smithers Chamber of Commerce President Brian Burrill said that he was all in favour of further studying a road linking Kitimat and Houston.

“Speaking in terms of tourism, we do need a study because it’s my impression that many people don’t turn left at Prince George because there’s only one way in and one way out,” he explained.
A road would also open up a whole new area of the province that has yet to be truly exposed to tourism or development, he continued. However, Burnett conceded a highway is a long-term project and the idea with a utility corridor is a realistic beginning.

“I think we start with a single utility corridor,” he said.

“If there’s a utility corridor we would need a road.”

Ron Burnett of the Kitimat Harbour Group - a group of volunteers that includes West Fraser woods manager and route proponent Victor Maskulak - said the communities of Cache Creek, Princeton and Penticton had all feared the Coquihalla. But instead of disappearing, these communities have since flourished.

The idea of further examining the potential of a coast utility corridor and/or Coastal Connector between Kitimat and Houston will take place during the Northwest Municipal Association Meeting on August 26 in New Hazelton.

Fixed link project still on provincial agenda
By Brooke Ward
The Northern View
Aug 29 2007

When the provincial government released the Ministry of Economic Development’s Major Projects Inventory quarterly report last week it was no of no surprise to North Coast leaders to find the Tsimshian Peninsula fixed link project under the proposed projects section. It’s been nearly ten years since the project was first proposed but Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond believes that coastal residents may soon begin to see some results.

“In the last year we’ve really begun to make some progress,” said Pond, who is preparing for a meeting with assistant deputy minister of partnerships Frank Blasetti in a few weeks’ time and a site visit from a senior project representative from the Ministry of Transportation.

“Recognizing that these things do move slowly, we’re happy to see that it’s gaining legs,” he said.
Originally proposed to build bridges between Prince Rupert, Digby Island and the Tsimshian Peninsula, a revised proposal is now under review, that consists of a system of road works, ferries and a bridge. The upgrade of 22 KM section of primitive logging road that connects the ferry terminal at Tuck Inlet to the town site of Port Simpson has already been approved,, a change that will tremendously improve accessibility.

“We are seeking ways to promote a sustainable economic future for our community,” said Lax Kw’alaams chief Gary Reece.

“Reliable access is crucial. It’s been a few years in the making and it’s something that we need here.”

“The link allows for significant economic development opportunities for the Tsimshian in their communities and the possibility of comfortably commuting to work in Prince Rupert,” added Pond.

“It is by far the most significant thing we can do to build a community for the future, not to mention the opportunities that would open up at the airport.”

Pond calls the $72 million project “too practical to ignore.”

“It’s a large amount of money, so that always takes both senior levels of government a little time to get their heads around, but when you start to paint the picture, it is clear this is a project that needs to be done.”

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