Highways expand while oil dwindles

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Vancouver is a city with a history of innovative thinking. Ifhighway expansion can't be stopped in Vancouver it can'tbe stopped anywhere.

The U.S., with five per cent of the world's population,consumes 25 per cent of the global oil supply. When GeorgeH.W. Bush said at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio DeJaneiro and Dick Cheney cited a decade later, “TheAmerican way of life is not negotiable,” it wascertainly the beginning of tensions that have yet tosubside.

Decades earlier, civic empire builders like Robert Moses, chief bureaucrat behind the large-scale highwayand public works expansions in New York City in theearly half of the 20th century, were alreadydeveloping and rewriting the story of the modern city. His ambitious projects of the 1930s, '40s and '50stransformed the urban landscape of New York where heconstructed new parks, bridges and tunnels.

It wasn't until the late '50s that he was felled — by the likes ofJane Jacobs and others in active neighbourhoods such asGreenwich Village — where communities around NorthAmerica were mobilizing against highway expansion andfor the protection of historic neighbourhoods. Moses,however, went on to become President of the World'sFair in 1959 continued to work for state governmentuntil 1968. He lived in the age of the post-wareconomy where expansion was everything and oil wasdirt cheap.

In late 1999, future U.S. Vice President and oil companyexecutive Dick Cheney said, “By some estimates,there will be an average of two per cent annual growthin global oil demand over the years ahead, along with,conservatively, a three per cent natural decline inproduction from existing reserves. That means by 2010we will need on the order of an additional 50 millionbarrels a day.”

The Economist recently had a cover that simplysaid “Oil.” Now, The Globe and Mail is running afeature series on the issue of oil depletion. LindaMcQuaig has a book out called, It's the Crude, Dude. Everyone seems to be talking about it except ourpolitical leaders.

With alternative sources of energy too costly tocompete with oil, it will take significantly increasedoil costs to make the market bearable for theseinitiatives unless governments intervene.

A March 2005 report for the U.S. Department of Energy entitled “The Mitigation of the Peaking of World OilProduction” stated:

“Without timely mitigation, world supply/demandbalance will be achieved through massive demanddestruction (shortages), accompanied by huge oil priceincreases, both of which would create a long period ofsignificant economic hardship worldwide.

“Waiting until world conventional oil production peaksbefore initiating crash program mitigation leaves theworld with a significant liquid fuel deficit for twodecades or longer.”

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve whichwas recently approved by the Bush Administration willlower oil prices by less than 50 cents and it onlycontains 10 billion barrels of oil — the amount thatthe U.S. consumes annually.

Kenneth Deffeyes, a geologist who worked with M. KingHubbert who came up with the supply curve known as“Hubbert's Peak” has even set the precise date for thepeak in oil production at November 25, 2005, U.S. ThanksgivingDay. Even U.S. President George W. Bush has started tovisit the oil rich republics of the former SovietUnion. China and India are busy securing oil suppliesfor their booming economies driven by middle classexpansion.

Canada is sitting on the second largest supply of oilreserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, but the highcosts of production have made it prohibitive toextract until now. There will be $87 billion ininvestment in Alberta's oil sands over the next tenyears to double output to $2.7 million barrels a day.

Unfortunately, BC is still planningmulti-billion dollar highway expansion projects in the Greater Vancouver Regional District(GVRD) contrary to the GVRD's Livable Region Strategic Plan. The twinning of the Port Mann Bridge andadditional highway expansion will have incredibleconsequences to neighbourhoods in the region andoutlying areas.

Building our way out of congestion through highwayexpansion seems incredibly short-sighted, especiallyin the context of oil reaching $100 a barrel by 2010and a public transportation sadly in need of a billiondollar overhaul.

Not only does the decision-making process lacktransparency, but there has yet to be a properanalysis of alternatives. At this stage, influentialstakeholders including the BC RoadbuildersAssociation, the BC Trucking Association, the Port ofVancouver and others in the Gateway Council arepushing for this expansion. At the GVRD level,suburban councillors are running roughshod over theirVancouver and Burnaby counterparts. Both the Liberalsand the New Democrats supported the project during theelection.

At the Port of Vancouver, which currently moves $43billion in goods, an increase of over 48 per cent fromthe port's last economic impact study in 2000, thereis little evidence to suggest that this growth willslow down over the next ten years. The Vancouver PortAuthority plans to invest more than $1.4 billion onterminal projects including expansions at Centerm,Vanterm and Roberts Bank.

Few councillors have stepped forward to call for acongestion tax or tolls to address air quality in theregion.

It wasn't that long ago that people like Jane Jacobsdefiantly said “no” to icons like Robert Moses. Itwasn't that long ago that citizens said “no” to highwayexpansion in other areas of Vancouver.

Vancouver is a city with a history of innovative thinking. Ifhighway expansion can't be stopped in Vancouver it can'tbe stopped anywhere.

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