Province studies Gabriola bridge viability

NANAIMO - Local politicians opposed to fixed link, citing increased traffic and environmental impact.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will examine the viability of a bridge from Gabriola Island to Nanaimo.

According to the ministry, a feasibility study was spurred by a Gabriola Island Bridge Society petition, which had close to 700 signatures. The ministry said it is looking to provide affordable and sustainable ferry service and examining fixed links are part of that.

There have been complaints about Gabriola ferry delays, and Jeremy Baker, society founder, said the service is completely unsustainable.

“The people I talk to are the people that want progress, they want a light at the end of the tunnel, they want a sustainable transportation system, available at all times, so they can get jobs, go to work and go to health care … We’ve outgrown the ferry, the ferry has outgrown us and it’s become a bloated, obese monster,” Baker said.

Sheila Malcolmson, chairwoman of the Island Trust, said she wasn’t pleased about the announcement, stating the province didn’t consult with local government.

A bridge wouldn’t be good for the Island’s ecology, community and businesses and additionally, the official community plans of Mudge and Gabriola islands, which the province signed, state there should be no bridge, she said.

“A lot of this for me is process,” said Malcolmson. “When Mike Hunter was our MLA, he said, ‘If your official community plan says no bridge, that’s the end of it. I recognize you’ve got a democratic process that puts these policies in place.’ It didn’t matter what political party, they respected the statutory process that we went through as a community.”

Like Malcolmson, Howard Houle, Regional District of Nanaimo director for Mudge and Gabriola, wasn’t informed in advance and is against a bridge. He said it would alleviate ferry problems but would bring up other troubles, as residents wouldn’t be able to access downtown Nanaimo as conveniently.

“You’d have to drive across the island, drive out to Duke Point and then drive to town. So if you’ve got thousands of cars doing that, it’s not very good for the environment,” he said.

The ministry said the study doesn’t commit provincial or local government to any action and it will help inform related discussion.

Potential locations will be part of the study and environmental impacts will be discussion to have in due course.

The study, which is estimated to cost $200,000, will run from fall until spring.