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Ratepayers float idea of bridge to Gabriola Island

Even though ferry sailings are about to be reduced, a Gabriola Island representative is against a bridge linking the island to Nanaimo.

Island Trust chairwoman Sheila Malcolmson said she is against the notion, pointing to a 2009 B.C. Ferries/Vancouver Island University survey that saw a 65 per cent majority against further investigation into a bridge. Gabriola and Mudge Islands’ official community plans and the Island Trust’s policy statement also speak against a bridge.

“I can’t see how a bridge will ever be built for the convenience of Gabriola commuters; it would inevitably involve mainland connections, so even greater harm to Mudge and Gabriola Islands’ sensitive ecology,” Malcolmson said. “A bridge is a major distraction from ferry fare hikes and service cuts, at a time we need to work together to preserve our ferry service in time for the April [reductions].”

A bridge was one of the topics at a recent Gabriola Ratepayers Association general meeting regarding ferry service. President Erik Andersen said about 75 per cent of 43 respondents of a poll listed a bridge as their first preference (out of five) and 75 per cent listed keeping the ferry as is as their last option.

While the association doesn’t have an official stance on a bridge, Andersen personally thinks it’s feasible.

“If you do the calculations of what the provincial government is contributing to our route right now, we’re seeing about [$2 million] coming every year from the provincial government,” he said. “We’re probably paying in the order of $3-4 million, I haven’t looked it up exactly, on fares and if you do the present value of those for say 20 or 25 years, you get a pretty big number.”

Andersen said the association would communicate its findings to the Transportation Ministry. It’s also seeking a bridge-related referendum, whether in the next municipal election or at another time.

According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, bridges were amongst options discussed during public engagement on the sustainability of the coastal ferry service in 2012 and 2013. If Gabriola residents could express strong support for a bridge to Nanaimo, the ministry would undertake a feasibility study.

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