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

  1. Max Humphreys on August 17, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Have you looked at the possibility of making a Vancouver Island Fixed Link a Non-Road Fixed Link, if a Fixed Link actually happens?

    There are 2 Forms of Non-Road Fixed Links that might work:

    1, Rail. A rail route from Victoria to Vancouver via the “Dayliner” Victoria-Duncan/Victoria-Nanaimo section would potentially allow more people to flow through the Fixed Link on a daily basis and would be cheaper per passenger ($50 per passenger?). It would also allow freight trains, which run at a cheaper cost than cargo trucks, to run from Delta to Victoria, making goods cheaper on the island.
    If the Trains were electrified, then it would be the first “emission neutral” way to travel from Vancouver Island to Vancouver.
    Apart from it probably being a little slower than driving from Victoria to Vancouver (unless the project was made further more expensive by adding high speed rail.) and The “Dayliner” Needing $1 Billion Repairs, This route seems to be a more efficient way than taking a car.

    2, Hyperloop. Hyperloop is an upcoming form of transport that go at airplane level speed on the ground. It has alot of the benefits that rail has, but is half the cost of building high speed rail and 3-4 times as fast. A Victoria-Nanaimo-Vancouver Hyperloop system would make the the island 20 minutes away from the mainland. With good scheduling and organization, 30-40 thousand people could go through this system per day
    The only issue is that Hyperloop is still being perfected and we don’t how well it might work underwater, so even if Hyperloop makes this project feasible it will take a few more years of research before we can start building the fixed link section.

    Bottom Line: I’m more interested in a Rail/Hyperloop Fixed Link than a Road Fixed. You probably have looked at the prospect of a Rail Fixed Link by now, and probably should look at if Hyperloop or Rail would be more feasible or more beneficial than a Road Fixed Link.
    Just a Suggestion for other forms of Transport on a Vancouver Island Fixed Link.

  2. Kirk on March 27, 2019 at 10:15 am

    I wish u west coasters luck in making the island more accessible. While on the topic of tunnels. Has the gov of BC and the federal government talked about an better solution than attempting to twin highway 1 between Revelstoke/golden and then still have to deal with snow removal/avalanches which close the highway frequently and negatively effects Canada’s gdp not to mention it will probably take another 20yrs to complete at this speed…. it’s a national disgrace and laughable that this is the national highway of a G8 nation. Perhaps a tunnel would be a better option?!

  3. Scott Brocius on March 24, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    A bit off topic here but does having a ferry route between the lower Sunshine Coast (Langdale) and Vancouver Island make sense? Have there been any discussions about making this a possibility? Seems logical considering both destinations have ferry terminals in place. Currently it takes two ferries and nearly 8 hours to make that trip. Thanks for your time.

  4. Nick Thomas on March 24, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    A tunnel 3 km long would avoid the rockfall and avalanche hazard at Three Valley on the Trans-Canada Highway (not to mention several highly accident prone curves and gradients). But even that seems to be far too ambitious a project for the BC Ministry of Transportation to even consider and even if they did would undoubtedly be too expensive for our government (of either complexion) to approve. A fixed link to the Island would be orders of magnitude more difficult and expensive.

    • tranbceditor on March 25, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      Hi Nick,

      A fixed link (tunnel or bridge) between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland has been looked into previously. Numerous climatic, terrain issues make such a structure unfeasible at this time. More about that: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/transportation-reports-and-reference/reports-studies/vancouver-island/fixed-link

      • Nick Thomas on March 25, 2019 at 7:03 pm

        Yes, I know you have a study saying a fixed link to the Island isn’t feasible. You DO have a Kamloops to Alberta Border program but you don’t have any feasibility studies for how you are going to 4 lane (or otherwise improve) Three Valley (or Summit Lake or Silver Creek or any of the other difficult sections). Maybe it is time to start PLANNING how you are going to deliver Kamloops to Alberta Border 4 laning. Or perhaps you know you don’t have to bother because all the managers and planners at the Ministry (let alone the politicians in the government) will have retired long before you get close to completing the Kamloops to Alberta Border program.

        Or perhaps be honest and abandon the pretense that there is a Kamloops to Alberta Border Program worth the name.

        • tranbceditor on March 26, 2019 at 1:50 pm

          Hi Nick. Much of this road presents serious engineering challenges, which means design and build can take significant time and money.

          The Salmon Arm West project is expected to be complete in 2023, and Donald to Forde is expected to be finished soon. Phase 4 of the Kicking Horse Canyon, however, is a little more extensive. Work is slated to start this year, and completion is expected to take six to seven years.

          We are committed to improving the safety and reliability of this corridor. There are 337 kilometres of provincial Highway 1 between Kamloops and Alberta (Parks Canada oversees the remaining 103 kilometres), so four-laning is a long-term effort.

  5. Brenda on March 23, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Have you considered a hybrid solution where the Gulf islands are connected to each other and Saltspring to Duncan. Ferries would continue on the main Tsawwassen Swartz Bay route, and just the Galiano link from Tsawwassen plus the Fulford and Otter Bay runs from Swartz Bay for the Islands. This would remove the lesser used inter island ferry routes. It would also give the islands a land link to Vancouver Island.

  6. Deryk Houston on February 11, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Why not go to a mile in depth like they did when they crossed horizontally with the recent Swiss Alps tunnel. (Apparently the longest tunnel currently (2019) in the world today.I think it is about 55 kilometers. Boring machines are apparently much more efficient than only a few years ago. The Swiss used reinforced steel rings to hold up the weight of over one mile of rock above the tunnel. Not saying this is feasible here but it does make one think that maybe worth another look. Maybe the answer is to bite the bullet and go deeper.

    • tranbceditor on February 14, 2019 at 3:41 pm

      Hello Deryk and thank you for your comment. We have sent it forward to our engineers for review and consideration and will let you know what we hear back.

    • tranbceditor on March 1, 2019 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Deryk,

      We heard back from our Bridge Engineering group on your question and here’s what they let us know. A crossing of Georgia Straight faces many challenges including: earthquakes, very deep water, a very deep soft soil deposit seabed (not suitable for tunnel boring), and underwater landslide risk. The state of the art for tunnels continues to progress, with significant advances in both scope and technology occurring around the world – notably in Switzerland (as you mentioned) and in Scandinavia. Given the technical challenges however the ministry is not considering this project at this time.

  7. Penny Brownjng on February 4, 2019 at 9:48 am

    What about the footings that were built years ago for a connecting bridge? Are they just going to rot?

    • tranbceditor on February 4, 2019 at 11:15 am

      Hi Penny – where are the footings?

  8. Caleb on October 23, 2018 at 11:31 am

    I looked at the link to the preliminary studies, the last one was conducted in 1985. Are there any plans to conduct an up-to-date study? When you consider that the average trip takes approximately 4 hours and as the cost of ferry travel becomes more expensive a toll of $120 to bypass ferry lineups and reduce travel time becomes favourable.

    • tranbceditor on October 26, 2018 at 1:56 pm

      Hi Caleb,

      No new studies have been undertaken for a fixed crossing between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. Our bridge engineers estimate that tolls would be significantly greater than they were estimated at 15 years ago, which was between $180 and $800.

  9. Robin Richardson on May 22, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Has the Transport Ministry surveyed a connector route north of Campbell River to the Regional District of Powell River across First Nations lands? When was this done and what was the estimated cost?

    • tranbceditor on May 24, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Hi Robin,

      We have sent your question to our planning folks. Stay tuned.

    • tranbceditor on May 31, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Hi Robin,

      We have not surveyed a connector route north of Campbell River to Powell River. Hope that this helps.

  10. Jon on April 14, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you for this. I’ve often wondered “why not just build a bridge” myself, and this explains succinctly why it’d be easier said than done. Investing in faster ferry service and lower tolls would be much more useful.

    • tranbceditor on April 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Hi Jon,

      We are glad to hear you found this information helpful. The ministry continues to look for ways to keep the cost of ferry travel down and service standards high. 🙂

  11. Brian Lang on February 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Your link to the “A Potential Fixed Link to Vancouver Island” page is broken. Please to fix.

    • tranbceditor on February 3, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Updated Brian, thanks for letting us know.

  12. Mark Lundie on January 27, 2016 at 8:35 am

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

  13. Rod on September 18, 2014 at 10:48 am

    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.

    • tranbceditor on September 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      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.

      • Dan Wittenberg on December 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm

        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

        • tranbceditor on December 8, 2014 at 10:33 am

          Hi Dan,
          Thanks for the comment. The person to talk to is Kevin Baskin, our Chief Bridge Engineer. He can be reached through kevin.baskin@gov.bc.ca

          • Rob Penner on January 27, 2016 at 2:19 pm

            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

          • tranbceditor on January 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm

            Hi Rob,

            Thanks for the comment. We will share it forward on your behalf!

  14. BOBBY on April 8, 2014 at 9:19 am

    WEWOWWOWWEEWOWOWOWOWEEEEWOW

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