This year’s Winter Olympics has been branded the “Greenest Games”, but they are linked to a massive freeway expansion scheme. In Vancouver, Canada activists are working hard to scrub off the greenwash and getting public money spent on real priorities such as public transit and affordable housing.
The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada have been branded the “Greenest Games”. They include feel-good measures such as energy efficient buildings and a green roof on the new convention centre. But, the Games are linked to a massive freeway expansion scheme which is already boosting consumption of tar sands oil and funnelling dirty money into the pockets of Olympic sponsors such as General Motors, Petro-Canada, the Royal Bank and TransCanada Pipelines. They should more appropriately be called the “Freeway Olympics” or the “Tar Sands Greenwash Games”. The previous Winter Games in Italy were bad enough, but at least they included a pledge to avoid any major roadway expansion. The current Games demonstrate a huge step backwards for environmental standards at the Olympics.
The Olympic Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion from Vancouver to the ski hill at Whistler was not needed – the existing rail line and highway would have been sufficient with modest upgrades. But, Olympic insiders insisted on a C$1 billion highway expansion, deciding that a few saved minutes of travel time for VIPs is worth increasing climate change and destroying wildlife habitat. That public money could have paid for quality passenger rail services across the province for years to come.
To draw attention away from this waste and destruction, the provincial government decided to spend C$90 million to experiment with only 20 inefficient hydrogen-powered buses – a ridiculously expensive public relations exercise, given that the same money would be way more beneficial if spent on cost-effective electric trolley buses or electric passenger trains. Hydrogen buses are now widely seen as a technological dead-end after many similar pilot projects around the world.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion is now complete, and people in British Columbia (BC) will be paying off the debt for decades to come. But, the Sea-to-Sky Highway is only one part of a massive freeway and highway-building binge in BC. Just two of the Gateway Program freeways in Metro Vancouver (Highway 1-Port Mann Bridge and the proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway) would cost about C$5 billion. Start adding up all the freeway projects planned across the province, and the bill quickly surpasses C$10 billion, in what many BC residents are already calling the Owe-lympics.
The proposed South Fraser freeway, planned for the banks of the Fraser River – one of the planet’s most important salmon rivers – alone could take C$2 billion away from transit and other public priorities. Only minor preparatory work has been done on this unnecessary and environmentally disastrous project; it is not a done deal. The Gateway freeways are only partly funded, and the post Owe-lympic financial mess will provide a unique opportunity to re-assess our public spending priorities. The question is whether people in BC will stand up and say “No” to continuing the multi-billion-dollar freeway expansion binge that started with the Sea-to-Sky highway.
We are working hard to scrub the greenwash off the 2010 Freeway Olympics, which is essential to getting public money spent on real priorities such as public transit and affordable housing.