Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Massey Bridge: $125K per house subsidy to suburban developers

Last week I was driving home from the NDP convention with a semi-retired traffic engineer in the backseat (and he was not backseat driving) when we passed under the Fraser River via the Massey Tunney.

"This tunnel provides 3 lanes in the direction of peak flow during rush hour", he said, "and if they build the 8-lane Massey Bridge that will add one lane, which is 2000 cars per hour, which over a 3 hour rush hour is 6000 new commuters. Assuming half the new households they put in here have a commuter the new bridge will support the development of 12,000 new houses."

Now, 12,000 new houses in south Delta/Ladner/Tsawassen will certainly eat up a lot of nice farm land, and that's a tragedy in its own right. But given that number of households, I immediately divided it into the $3B probable cost of a bridge-plus-Richmond-highway-expansion, and was blown away.

Three billion dollars divided by twelve thousand homes is $250,000 per home. Be generous if you like, and assume a much lower number of Fraser crossing commuters in the new developments. It's still hard to get the number lower than $100,000 per new home.

So, a review of the facts:

  • Traffic in the current tunnel is actually falling.
  • So new development is the only reason to build an 8-lane monster bridge over the river.
  • The extra lanes on the bridge will increase capacity by 2,000 cars per hour, which can be extrapolated to 12,000 to 24,000 new homes, depending on your assumptions.
  • The last major bridge/highway project cost 3 billion dollars, and everyone seems to think building a new bridge and widening the freeway north of it will also cost "about" 3 billion dollars.
  • 3 billion dollars divided by 24,000 homes is $125,000 per home.

Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that BC taxpayers are going to be subsidizing "affordable" new housing south of the Fraser to the tune of about $125K per new home.

Can someone stop the ride now? I'm feeling a bit queezy and I want to get off.


Ryan said...

I gotta say, I came across your post on redistribution and really enjoyed it. This post however seems really far off base.

Firstly, South Delta residents aren't the sole users of this bridge. I suspect if you do the math a plurality actually come from Surrey. Plenty of people in Vancouver, Richmond, Whiterock and North Delta use it too. Most worst congestion is actually in the off-peak direction, and the relief for those vehicles is ignored in your calculation. A lot of that traffic is commercial traffic, so you're not so much enabling new homes as you are enabling new jobs. There may also be benefits to the rapid bus service that goes through the tunnel, which would certainly be appreciated by a lot of people south of the Fraser.

The link re: traffic isn't a particularly strong one by the way. Traffic was down in 2008 thanks to the recession. I can tell you it had a notable impact on my commute.

If you think the current bridge is under capacity, by all means, try driving south from Richmond into Delta at 8:30 AM. Trust me, it's ugly.


Paul Ramsey said...

@Ryan, thanks for commenting. It could be that I was intemperate. Perhaps the implied subsidy is only $60K or $30K.

Before we spend another $2B on a bridge, a hundred years of infrastructure, could we perhaps wonder: are we going to be driving as much, more even, in 25 years than we are now? Knowing what we know about the price, supply and demand for oil, is it likely that we will be? Or, knowing that even in the present volumes on the Golden Ears, on the new Port Mann, are actually falling, should we be building another such a thing?

I imagine that, in the present, in a vehicle, heading south at 9AM, such thoughts seem pretty remote from hard-headed reality, but they aren't. The particular annoyance you experience is no better or more important than the particular annoyance a North Van community feels waiting on the Lions Gate or a West Shore Victorian feels waiting in the Colwood crawl. We can't and shouldn't build more car infrastructure unless we're 150% sure it'll actually get utilized, and the only way a 10-laner over the Fraser gets utilized is through more sprawl development down there.

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