The fact that members of the Third Crossing Society needed two ferries to travel from Powell River to Monday’s (Oct. 22) Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) board meeting in Pemberton was the exact reason why the group was on hand to meet with area legislators.
The society is advocating a highway connection between Powell River and Highway 99, making travel between the coast and, by extension, Vancouver Island to the Sea to Sky corridor much simpler.
The SLRD board provided support in principle to the group’s plan, which calls for about 170 kilometres of forest service roads being brought up to highway standard, as well as the construction of approximately 30 km of new highway linking the existing roads.
The Sea to Sky corridor would realize increased traffic and tourism dollars with a direct link to Powell River and, by extension, northern Vancouver Island, said a delegation led by Third Crossing president Tom Wheeler.
The group estimates that the total project cost would be $503 million, and is currently fundraising for a survey of the proposed route, but delegation members stressed that they were “not asking for any money” during their presentation.
The proposed route would cover 215 km, going northeast from Powell River over the Jervis Inlet and returning southeast to connect with Highway 99 just north of Squamish. But constructing the road would have its challenges. Although more than 80 per cent of the route’s foundation is laid by logging roads, the 30-km stretch of new highway would include a three-km tunnel through Mount Casement to complete the connection.
Third Crossing members also said they would anticipate a surge in ferry traffic on the “under-utilized” trip between Comox and Powell River with easier access between Vancouver Island and the interior.
Efforts to move the project forward have been ongoing for years, said Third Crossing members, but especially over the past decade. Public meetings garnering positive feedback were held in Powell River and Squamish about the idea seven years ago, and the society was incorporated a short time later. But, the group’s plans were a low priority as the province addressed transportation needs ahead of the Olympics.
But now, Third Crossing members feel the scope of a Powell River connection has only increased after $600 million in upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway. The group’s report to the board said previous efforts to move the project forward may have been too focused on the impacts for Squamish and Powell River, and not enough on the extended transportation link it could create.
“At some point, this project will have its day,” said Powell River Regional District board chair Colin Palmer, part of the Third Crossing delegation.
The SLRD’s chair said she hopes Palmer is correct.
“Personally, I would love to see it come to fruition,” said Susie Gimse. “I think it would be great for economic activity for the southern part of the regional district.”
While supportive of the idea, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she’d be surprised to see it completed anytime soon.
“It’s interesting to talk about a road from that community over to this corridor and any increased access to this corridor is a great thing,” Wilhelm-Morden said after Monday’s meeting. “When you’re talking about a 30-kilometre missing piece of road which also requires a tunnel, I just don’t see it happening in the near future.”