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Analysis: The trouble with B.C.'s overpasses

How did highway overpasses become 2023’s most-controversial piece of infrastructure in B.C.?
Orange trucks from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure were on site at the Mountain Highway overpass, along with several police cruisers, to enforce an injunction that prevents gathering on the overpass | Nick Laba / North Shore News

Overpasses. They are just too much trouble.

Concrete eyesores that impede the flow of traffic on freeways. Obstacles to heavy trucks that sometimes just happen to be a little too tall or simply pulling some extra weight behind them, like excavators.

They are also platforms for protesters, from the alt-right to the control-left and everywhere in between. Angry, attention-seeking folks that come to hang banners, wave flags and chant chants for the cause du jour, in front of thousands of drivers and passengers.


I have a solution. Line up the wrecking balls and tear the nuisances all down.

Do away with overpasses, so nobody will ever run into one again. Protesters can find somewhere else to air their grievances. To them, I say: Go fish for loose change between your chesterfield cushions or under your futon, cash in those empty beer bottles and kombucha cans, or start a GoFundMe campaign. Beg, borrow – but don’t steal – enough dough to buy time on one of those digital billboards somewhere beside the highway.

What, you say, phasing out overpasses means forcing drivers to take long, circuitous routes from point A to point B? More exhaust in the atmosphere, so the planet will come closer to catastrophe?

Tough luck. No more shortcuts. Buy a map and plot a route that works for you. Or just use the GPS that came with your car and let the voice guide you. Worried about the environment? Buy a Tesla, bicycle or skateboard.

Of course, I’m being Swiftian.

In a province where the Site C dam up north has doubled to $16 billion and the $2.83 billion Broadway Subway construction site is killing small businesses, how did highway overpasses become 2023’s most-controversial piece of infrastructure in B.C.?

Truckers slamming into highway overpasses have caused millions of dollars of damage.

According to the province’s Bridge Strikes Data website, it has happened 17 times between December 2021 and the start of May 2023, with 14 violation tickets issued so far. All were driver error.

Chohan Freight Forwarders vehicles were sidelined for three weeks in June 2022 after their fifth incident — two of which involved the 264th Street overpass on Highway 1.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure decided to spend $19.5 million to build a new Glover Street overpass. The Feb. 10 crash on the Cambie Road overpass on Knight Street in Richmond was caught on camera.

Luckily, for everybody’s sake, no truck has crashed into an overpass during a protest.

Protesters against the United Nations migration compact promoted their cause in December 2018 on the 232nd Street overpass in Langley. The Harvey Road overpass on Highway 97 in Kelowna was festooned with a “No tar sands, no pipelines, no tankers” banner during the February 2020 Shut Down Canada frenzy, in sympathy with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their campaign to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The same bridge saw an anti-fossil fuels banner in September 2021.

Protesters dropped a banner from the Georgia Viaduct last November, with an anti-Vancouver Police, pro-Downtown Eastside message.

The gutsiest display anywhere in 2022 was last October in Beijing, where a lone man draped the sides of the Sitong Bridge with banners against China’s hardline “zero COVID” lockdowns and Xi Jinping’s dictatorship, before Communist Party bigwigs convened to rubber stamp his third term. The incident was a precursor to late November anti-CCP protests across China.

In the spring of 2023, highway overpasses on both sides of the Second Narrows have figured in Canada’s culture war.

In East Vancouver on March 18, protesters in disguises dumped paint from an overpass onto a flag-flying pickup truck and SUV that were part of a convoy heading to the Stand United anti-vaccine protest in downtown Vancouver.

At the bottom of The Cut in North Vancouver, a small group gathers weekly on the Mountain Highway Interchange overpass during the Thursday afternoon rush hour crawl. Their banners oppose gender identity curriculum in schools, vaccination and the federal government. Yes, they have one of those “Truck Fudeau” flags (this is a family publication) made famous by the truckers blockade in Ottawa.

Their messages offend some, but their approach is passive compared to the foreign-funded Save-Old-Growth campaign this time last year. Activists used cars to block traffic so that their comrades could jump out and glue their hands to the pavement to create monster traffic jams in the name of climate change.

Minister Rob Fleming said the overpass malcontents distract drivers, so the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure invoked a section of the Highways Act. That didn’t stop their weekly appearances, so a government lawyer went to court May 11 and got an injunction.

Justice Andrew Majawa declared that the specific overpass, its on and off ramps and an area within 250 metres each way are now a no-protest zone. Ministry employees and highway contractors have the power to remove any signs and structures. The police have the power to arrest anyone who disobeys.

That’s right, a government under Premier David Eby is challenging citizens’ freedom to peacefully disagree.

The same Eby who gained an international media profile from his time as the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), when he fought the good fight to protect the rights of citizens to protest in Vancouver before and during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The legal counsel in the Office of the Premier is Thompson Rivers University law professor and former BCCLA president Craig Jones. Back in 1997, RCMP officers arrested Jones while he studied law at the University of British Columbia. His crime? Hanging paper signs on a fence that said “free speech” and “democracy” on the day China’s Jiang Zemin and Indonesia’s Suharto visited for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. But it is not absolute and the province says it is erring on the side of safe driving.

The injunction applies to only one overpass and its surroundings. But, in the zeal to shut down the anti-SOGI, anti-vax folks, the slope may become slipperier than The Cut on a rainy day.

The result could be fewer places across the province for a high-visibility, peaceful protest.

If they can’t find a helpful civil liberties lawyer, then the rebels with a cause may just have to buy space on one of those digital billboards by the side of the highway.