Transportation will always be an important topic for those living on Vancouver Island.
There's been only positive news out of Nanaimo Airport since the arrival of WestJet, as passenger traffic soars. Air travel is known to be a mode of choice for higher income individuals, and the Calgary direct flights offer tantalizing commuter opportunities for Albertans who may want to play golf and fish in winter on Vancouver Island.
Rail and water modes of transportation are also in the news of late in Nanaimo, the results of which will determine the future of the city's growth: The railway, the proposed fast foot passenger ferry to downtown Vancouver, and B.C. Ferries.
The Island Corridor Foundation is still labouring towards an agreement with Via Rail, and past that, would need to secure significant funding to bring the rail lines up to standard for the long-term future.
Experts estimate that it will cost in the $100 million-plus range to do the job right. With the sand slipping steadily through the hourglass not only with Via Rail negotiations but Father Time and regular wear and tear on the lines, it is getting close to decision time.
While some may dream of a commuter rail to Victoria, that isn't possible in the longterm without significant line upgrades. Even if it was, it would require a substantial subsidy to keep the ride affordable for commuters.
The business case for Island rail always has relied on commercial customers, but how many of those are realistically on the radar? Some suggest that the possible Raven Coal mine could utilize the service, but the development of that project inches along at a snail's pace and it still may be years before it becomes reality, if at all.
Should the money that has been pledged towards the rail lines by governments, including Island Regional Districts, be preparing for possible use somewhere else? It might be somewhat premature, but perhaps it is time to consider pushing railway funding towards a fast ferry link to the Lower Mainland. Reports continue to indicate a successful end is near to establishing a new service. If that funding somehow falters, railway designated money would be a good fit.
A fast foot passenger ferry would be attractive to commuters, whose options would include downtown Nanaimo condominiums, for example. It could bring higher wage earners to take advantage of our lower costs and quality of life.
B.C. Ferries could be tapped on the shoulder regarding such a service, although they haven't shown much interest to overtures thus far.
There is also a current push to consolidate Vancouver routes through either Departure Bay or Duke Point. The latter could make Departure Bay a very interesting consideration for several types of development. Both Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen terminals could be serviced from one Nanaimo base, as was proven when Duke Point was out of service for repairs last year.
Whichever way it turns out, our main road/ferry link to the lower mainland is vital. Ferry fares are, always have been, and likely always will be, a concern, and traffic on the routes has been in decline. Perhaps the consolidation into one terminal will somehow make the service more affordable.
We're facing some big decisions in the near future, and there's a lot on the line.
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