This rendering shows a proposed new B.C. highway that would connect north Vancouver Island with the province’s Interior via the Powell River/Comox ferry.

‘Third crossing’ proposed

A growing society is advocating for a new highway that would connect north Vancouver Island to the B.C. Interior, allowing travellers to avoid the major ferry terminals.

Instead, motorists would take the Comox-Powell River ferry and bypass the busy and often congested Lower Mainland.

The group, named the Third Crossing Society, has about 100 members and growing.

Gary Fribance, president of Third Crossing, said the proposal would be of benefit to Campbell River.

“From Campbell River’s point of view, this mid-province economic corridor would offer residents driving to the Interior an alternative to the Coquihalla and Trans Canada, allowing them to avoid the Lower Mainland,” Fribance said. “Similarly, it would offer the rest of the province, and the country, a new way to reach (Campbell River) and attract tourists with two additional circle routes.”

The proposal involves establishing a new highway link between Powell River and Highway 99 via the Upper Squamish Valley, using 130 kilometres of logging roads (which would be brought up to highway standard) from the Upper Sunshine Coast on the west and Highway 99 on the east. That would leave 42 kilometres of new road and one three-kilometre tunnel through Mount Casement to be constructed to complete the connection.

“Do that, et voilà, the province has its third crossing, the Port Mellon to Highway 99 connector, and has met four separate but related challenges in one stroke,” reads a report on the connector proposals.

The Third Crossing Society says the new link would stimulate both the economies of both north Vancouver Island and the area immediately north of the Lower Mainland, and ease congestion and its related costs on Vancouver’s highways, at its ferry terminals, and eventually in its port.

Third Society claims that with the amount of travellers being diverted away from the main ferry terminals in Nanaimo and Victoria, BC Ferries would save $855 million in operating costs.

The group is estimating it will cost around $500 million to build the new 215-kilometre highway crossing but Third Crossing expects that the new highway will pay for itself.

They say any amount not covered could be recovered through a modest toll, similar to what was on the Coquihalla.

The project has been on the table for decades and seven years ago Third Crossing hosted public meetings in Powell River and Squamish which generated positive feedback.

The group’s plans, however, were put on the back burner at the time as the province had turned its focus to transportation needs, specifically improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway, ahead of the 2010 Olympics.

Now, the project has been given new life and the society is focusing on reaching out to communities beyond the highway connection points that could potentially stand to benefit from the new link.

The project has so far received official support from the Comox Valley Regional District, the Sliammon First Nation, Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District which has provided support in principle.