Farewell to the Albion Ferry
A bit of a departure for this blog, but justified by the circumstances. The Golden Ears Bridge will open next month – ahead of schedule – and put an end to the last ferry to cross the Fraser in the lower mainland. The course of my travels in the region had not previously given me a reason to use it, but I did that today simply because it will soon no longer be possible.
UPDATE Monday June 1
When I wrote this piece I had not read the recent article in the Globe and Mail – which is worth reading too
The wikipedia entry is disappointingly brief – hopefully it will get extended soon. There is a useful board (erected on the occassion of the 50th anniversary of the ferry) in the line up area on the north side. From that I learned that it opened in 1957, the Klatawa was introduced in 1978 and the sister vessel Kulleet in 1985.
(By the way, BC Ferries operates the very similar Klitsa which has been known to substitute for these two when major repairs or refit was required. It provides service between the Gulf Islands (Chemainus to Thetis and Kuper Islands).)
In 2006 the ferry service carried 4m people and 1.5 m vehicles. Since its introduction it has covered a distance more than 20 trips to the moon and back. The crossing is brief – unlike the usual waits on either side – and the accommodation for passengers spartan.Which makes the ban on dogs in the “lounge” a little hard to understand.
On the Maple Ridge side there is a restaurant next door to the ferry, with a nice patio and view of the operation. However, I did not have time to try their hospitality as I only had about 30 minutes to wait in line. Even so, that meant the capacity of the waiting area for vehicles was already exceeded and cars were lined up on the road. Apart from two washrooms, and a shelter for foot passengers to wait in, there are few facilities for the public at the ferry terminal. I would have thought a lunch truck would do reasonable business – or perhaps even a couple of vending machines, but then this kind of service has not been Translink’s strong suit – not was it of its predecessor (the MoT). On the south side there is even less space as that is adjacent to the MacMillan Island Reserve: there is simply a landing and an inadequate parking area. No bus service can get to the ferry on this side, as there is nowhere for it to turn around.
HandyDART does not cross on the ferry but drops off its passengers who are then picked up (eventually) on the other side.
While there was a local campaign to try and keep some sort of ferry running it was doomed to failure. No-one seems to have considered how the ferry could itself have been an attraction – perhaps building on the drawing power of Fort Langley (just down the road) – to extend the visitor experience to incorporate north shore destinations such as Golden Ears Provincial Park or Stave Lake. Maple Ridge town centre used to be quite unusual in that it did not have many of the major chain retailers. This could have been quite a selling point – somewhere different to everywhere else. That of course will not now be the case as the usual suspects are now lining up for new highway oriented developments – the sort of thing that Burnaby managed to produce further downstream at Big Bend. Not exactly “new urbanism”.
The ferry is free. Its replacement will not be – and that is indeed one of the main reasons why the new bridge was built. This image was taken before the bridge was finished – and for its first month of operation will also be free. So I expect that I will do another excursion that way to try it out and get some more up to date images.
The bridge is further downstream and has extensive road works on either side. The volume of traffic it will carry is of course far in excess of the ferry it replaces. To some extent that will be people who currently sit in the line ups – four and five sailing waits at peak periods are not uncommon – or those who now use the nearest alternatives at Mission or Port Mann. But by the far the greatest impact will the number of new trips that the Golden Ears will now encourage. People who are currently deterred by the long waits or circuitous routing between Surrey and Langley to and from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will use the new crossing. And the surveys done of new and potential users showed that people would be willing to pay a toll to save time. The policy that says tolls can only be applied to new facilities thus spelled the end for the “free” ferry. A P3 (of course) made it look like there was no addition to the debt of Translink or the Province – though of course the liability is significant. I doubt the toll forecasts envisaged what might happen if gas prices reach $1.50 a litre – which they were not long ago and no doubt will be again in due course.
By the way, I think I should mention that the new bridge and its approaches costs far more than it needs to. The Federal Government insisted that the air draft of the new bridge (i.e the space underneath the deck for vessels to pass) should be equal to the Port Mann – so that access for shipping be not diminished. That means the approaches are much longer and the bridge higher than it could have been, if they had recognised that only a few tugs and barges operate upstream of the Port Mann. That is the same Federal Government that is supposed to be protecting salmon habitat – and was therefore refusing to allow dredging to allow larger vessels to navigate this part of the river. I say supposed to since recently it has been revealed that not only did they permit dredging further up stream – which not only destroyed many fish and much habitat, it also failed to reduce the flood risk that supposedly justified it. In any event I will be very surprised indeed if any vessel that passes underneath the new bridge gets anywhere near the underside of the deck.
The main beneficiaries will be those developers who can – or already have – secured land on the north side of the crossing for development – as commuting from there to the industrial areas south of the river will become much more attractive. Trip generation from these developments will be very significant. Of course, it was never the intention of the LRSP to encourage car commuting from suburb to suburb – though that is exactly what has happened since 1995 – and will now accelerate. When I asked my former colleagues in Strategic Planning in Translink why this project should have climbed so quickly up the priority list the only answer I got was “We have to do something”. Which I never found very satisfactory as an explanation. The real reason was – I think – that engineers like to build mega-projects – especially bridges. It feeds the “edifice complex”. But the results will be exactly the same as the construction of other major highway bridges in other urban areas. Soon after the (tolled) Triborough Bridge opened in the 1930s, New York City experienced the worst traffic jam in its history. The Alex Fraser bridge filled with traffic within months: it will be interesting to see how long it is before the Golden Ears joins the daily litany of the traffic reporters’ tales of woe.