Something I have been discussing with Duke of Data Andy Yan, who is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University-do transportation decisions at a Federal and Provincial level set the tone for planning policy at a regional level?
That’s also what Nathan Davidowicz posted on a Vancouver Politics social media group, noting that because the Federal government cost shares up to 40 percent of funding on large projects, that also influences planning policy. Approximately 180 billion dollars is available through Ottawa’s Infrastructure Fund.
I have previously written that a smaller crossing at the existing Massey Tunnel with a separate crossing of the Fraser River that aligned up for truck routes for Vancouver port bound traffic may have made more sense, but the cost makes one bigger tunnel at one location more feasible.
It is absolutely true that a new crossing of some type was needed in this location to service Deltaport truck traffic and the existing populations in Delta and Surrey along the corridor as the existing tunnel is at the end of its shelf life.
There’s another issue ensuring that a faster dedicated transit lane and three travel lanes in each direction in a new tunnel does not feed consumer demand for more housing south of the Fraser River along the highway alignment.
Why? Because of “Induced Demand”.
As described by City Lab, induced demand “refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion”. This is also called the Jevon’s paradox or effect, when technological progress (a tunnel in this case) increases the efficiency of a resource (road capacity) and increases consumption (vehicles).
Create more lanes, you get more traffic flowing in and out of the suburbs.
This feeds into “Marchetti’s Constant”, which refers to the daily amount most people are prepared to travel to work. People generally are happy to commute 30 minutes each way. When people move house, they usually try to keep their travel time the same. As travel times (like through a tunnel with a dedicated three vehicular lanes in each direction at any time of the day) become predictable, constant, and quicker, commuters choose to live farther out, with the “constant” said to be about one hour in total travel time.
Locate more people along the Massey Tunnel corridor, people will live farther out along this highway access and travel to and from work through the Tunnel, creating congestion.
While some type of crossing is definitely needed here, the goals around sustainability for the region and how to make transit more accessible and appealing for single occupant vehicle drivers needs to be implemented. That is a reason for the new tunnel having less vehicular lanes, having dedicated bus lanes in the new tunnel, and also reviewing best practices for road and congestion pricing.
Public transit in this corridor needs to be quick, comfortable and reliable and be easy to use, with a faster trip compared to a single occupant automobile.
You can see an example of induced demand in the Port Mann bridge, which has over 150,000 daily crossings. In pre-pandemic days, the City of Surrey was growing by 1,000 people a month. The Port Mann bridge experienced a 62 percent bridge traffic increase in just five years.
That should not happen along the Massey Tunnel highway corridor, which is on floodplain and is not targeted for increased growth in the regional plan.
This is where the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) may be better for the environment but is not solving the issue that owners of EVs may be driving more than owners of internal combustion engine vehicles.
You simply cannot drive your way out of congestion.
While it is still up in the air how the government will pony up for funds for the new Massey crossing, you can be sure it will entail some type of road pricing, tax or congestion charge, and hopefully more of those funds will be earmarked for efficient, comfortable and fast transit options.
Here’s a few minute excerpt from the hit Australian program “Utopia”, a comedy based upon the inner workings of the “National Building Authority” in charge of Australia’s major infrastructure projects.
Their comedic take on how induced demand works is perhaps a better illustration of what can go wrong.