Artist renderings show the concept for the new terminal building at B.C. Ferries’ Descanso Bay terminal. (B.C. Ferries images)

Upgrades planned for Gabriola ferry terminal

Plans call for new loading ramp, creation of a vehicle holding area and new terminal building

Ferry passengers can look forward to shorter vehicle lineups and improved amenities that include electric bicycle charging stations when B.C. Ferries starts redevelopment of its Descanso Bay terminal on Gabriola Island.

The corporation released its terminal development plan for the Gabriola terminal in March.

Plans call for an expansion of the terminal to create a holding area for up to 47 vehicles, a designated foot passenger drop-off and pick-up area, redesigned parking lot, school bus loading zone and a new terminal building containing a passenger waiting room, a storage area for B.C. Ferries staff, washrooms, covered bicycle racks with charging stations for electric bikes and other amenities.

Revamping the terminal will address some long-standing traffic congestion and safety issues that have been largely due to the lack of a vehicle holding area, forcing vehicles to queue up along the side of North Road and Taylor Bay Road where they often make potentially unsafe U-turns to join the ferry lineup.

The new facilities will replace the ferry terminal’s outdated passenger waiting room and washroom building and create safer access to the terminal for vehicles, foot passengers and cyclists, notes the plan. Because of its connection to downtown Nanaimo, bicycle and foot passenger traffic at the Descanso terminal is high with little available road space and no controlled crossing points for either. Plans also call for a designated stop for the island’s community bus.

The terminal’s loading ramp is nearing the end of its service life and will also be upgraded to a two-lane ramp to match up with new Island Class ferries that will replace the MV Quinsam, which is scheduled for retirement.

Long-term plans also call for a possible roundabout to be created at the North Road-Taylor Bay Road intersection to make it safer and provide easier vehicle access to the terminal.

The terminal’s footprint is to be enlarged to accommodate extra lanes for the vehicle holding area and the new amenities building.

B.C. Ferries has applied to the Islands Trust for rezoning of land the terminal will expand onto. Rezoning approval could take 18 to 24 months according to the terminal development plan.

Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that pending successful official community plan and rezoning amendments, construction is planned for 2021 to 2022.

As for the estimated costs of the redevelopment project, Tessa Humphries, B.C. Ferries manager of communications, said in an e-mail when queried about costs to redevelop the downtown Nanaimo terminal, that it’s too early in the process to give an estimate.

“The current design is conceptual and the next stage is [the] preliminary design stage, which will provide a better sense of costs,” Humphries said, adding that the ferry corporation wouldn’t release cost estimates, as “it’s commercially sensitive information.”

About 770,000 passengers pass through the Descanso Bay terminal annually and B.C. Ferries projects that number will rise to more than 775,000 passengers per year over the next 20 years.

To view B.C. Ferries’ Descanso Bay terminal development plan, visit https://bit.ly/2W1eAZM.



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An illustration from B.C. Ferries’ terminal development plan for Descanso Bay terminal on Gabriola Island shows layouts for a new vehicle holding area and other changes designed to eliminate vehicle congestion and improve safety. (B.C. Ferries image)

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