From the Island to the Mainland – A Straight-Up Story About Bridging

Fixed link bridge from Vancouver to Vancouver Island

It’s been raised many times in the past, and it’ll likely continue to be a hot topic as long as Vancouver Island remains separated from the mainland (which will probably be a very long time). We’re talking, of course, about building a connection across the Georgia Straight. The fixed link has been a fixation for us, Islanders and island visitors for decades.

Common suggestions include building a bridge, like Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Bridge, or even a tunnel like the Channel Tunnel connecting France and the UK. It seems like an easy choice. After all, it’s being done elsewhere, and how much cheaper and easier would it be if we could just drive to and from the Island without having to worry about taking a ferry? Once we start looking a little closer, though, things get a lot more complicated.

The Confederation Bridge, for example, is about 13 kilometres long, and its supports go into a solid rock foundation in relatively shallow water (about 35 metres deep). Compare that with crossing the Georgia Strait, where you’re looking at a crossing of up to 26 kilometres and depths of up to 365 metres. That’s deeper than the Eiffel Tower is tall. And even when you reach the bottom, it’s not a nice, solid foundation – you’ve got to go through many metres of silt before you get there. It’s also an active shipping channel, prone to seismic activity, extreme waves and high winds… not exactly ideal conditions for a bridge.

So what about boring a tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel is talked about a lot, so let’s take a look at that first. As it turns out, it’s not a very good comparison, as it’s only 75 metres deep at its lowest point. A better example might be Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, which at about 50 kilometres long and 240 metres deep is the longest and the deepest operational rail tunnel in the world. There’s also the Eiksund Tunnel in Norway. At nearly 300 metres down, it’s the deepest undersea road tunnel in the world, but it’s not even eight kilometres long. When you start to look at these stats, it really becomes apparent just how unique our situation is. There really is no comparison out there for a tunnel on the scale that we’d have to build.

Other ideas that have been talked about include a floating bridge and a floating, submerged tunnel. Both options have serious challenges, as the technology to build and operate them safely is still unproven, and therefore, at this point, neither look like a good option.

Oh, and the cost? A toll would be needed in order to pay for the construction, maintenance, rehabilitation and insurance over the fixed link’s 100-year expected life span. The amount of the toll would depend on the total cost of the project, but initial estimates run from a low of $180 to a high of $800. And that’s just one way.

If you’d like to find out more about the study we’ve done on the fixed link, we’ve got a web page called A Potential Fixed Link to Vancouver Island. It should be interesting reading for anyone who has been as fixated on this topic as we have.

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  1. And how much is this going to cost? especially if a “hyperloop” or tunnel technology is involved? Surely there are more pressing priorities.

  2. What about the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China? Its 26kms long across rough seas. Why couldn’t we learn from that effort. It seems pretty close to ours.

    • Hi Rod,

      We asked our Bridge Engineering Department if the Jiaozhou Bridge was a feasible example for a crossing between the mainland and Vancouver Island. They told us that The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is located where water depths do not exceed 15 meters, except for specifically dredged, narrow navigation channels. Constructing bridge piers in 15 meters of water is fairly straightforward, with longer cable stayed spans to bridge over narrow navigation channels. This type of construction is not possible in Georgia Strait, where water depths up to 365 meters extend over a considerable portion of the crossing. No bridge has yet been built over a wide and deep channel like Georgia Strait.

      Hope that this helps! Thanks for connecting with us here and let us know if you have any other questions.

      • International Marine Floating Systems(IMFS)was born in the early 1980s to take advantage of our ideas for Floating Structures. We viewed the surface of the water as potential Real Estate which then would require permanent foundations etc. Since then we have designed and built over 400 Floating Structures with our unsinkable Concrete concepts the largest in Lake Powell USA of 27,000 sf. and breakwater sections of 2000 tons ea. We would like to arrange a meeting with the appropriate person. Regards – Dan Wittenberg Pres. IMFS

          • Has anyone considered if a pipe line would aliveate some of the transportation issue . I mean if you could transport groceries and even building supplies through pipeline that would take some of thee load off the ferries freeing up those resources to deploy in other areas. Pipe line would be a Fraction if the cost . Anyway just a thought