Vancouver: Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone launched the third phase of consultation on the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project on Wednesday, as well as the design and cost details of the estimated $3.5-billion 10-lane bridge project. There was a very strong response. Most of it was positive.
“The new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel will improve highway safety, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from unnecessary idling, and save rush-hour commuters up to 30 minutes a day,” said Stone. “This will be the largest bridge ever built in B.C. When completed, it will address what is now the worst traffic bottleneck in the province and bring travel time reliability to one of our most important transportation corridors, serving national, provincial and regional economies.”
- The current tunnel built in 1959 no longer meets modern standards for seismic safety. Many of its major components have about 10 years of useful life remaining before they need to be replaced, including the lighting, ventilation and pumping systems
- The bridge will be approximately three kilometres long, with four general travel lanes and one transit/HOV lane in each direction
- Once constructed, it will cut some commute times in half and also improve travel time reliability for the 10,000 transit passengers and 80,000 vehicles that use the tunnel each day
- Construction is scheduled to start in 2017 and is expected to be complete by 2022
- The bridge will be paid for through user tolls
The minister claimed it will offer important safety benefits that include: a design that meets modern seismic standards; additional lanes that make merging safer for all vehicles; will reduce an estimated 35% of collisions and widen lanes and shoulders to improve safety and emergency response times.
The report goes on to say the George Massey Tunnel Improvement Project will have a significant benefit for the environment. It will remove more than one million hours of idling vehicles a year and make transit and HOV travel more convenient and attractive. This includes dedicated transit ramps at Bridgeport Road with direct transit access to and from Canada Line at Bridgeport Station. The project has also been designed to include space to accommodate future rapid transit. For the first time in recent memory at this location, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross the river, as the new bridge will include a multi-use pathway. Other project components include new interchanges at Highway 17A, Steveston Highway and Westminster Highway and widening approximately 24 kilometres of Highway 99 to include one dedicated transit/HOV lane in each direction from Highway 91 in Delta to Bridgeport Road in Richmond, tying into existing infrastructure.
“A new 10-lane bridge will reduce the congestion that commuters currently face each day, and offer long-term options for transportation improvements in the region, like the addition of future rapid transit,” said Delta Mayor Lois E. Jackson. “The environmental benefits are also important to Delta residents, who will enjoy improved access to riverside parkland and regional cycling and walking trails.”
Another positive as a result of the project, for the south Fraser, will be the positive impact the project will have on the further development of the Boundary Bay Airport, which has been gearing it’s upgrade and industrial development toward improved travel time between YVR and Boundary Bay.
In an article published in the Asian Journal last week, Airport General Manger, Heather Braun said that although the airport is developing well, improved travel time between the two airports will increase the attractive aspect of Boundary Bay as a viable terminal for business traffic.
“Expanded capacity at the George Massey corridor will benefit the business community and residents by making it easier and safer for customers, employees and goods to move in and out of Richmond,” said Richmond Chamber of Commerce chair Rob Akimow. “Our members have voiced support for a new South Fraser crossing and we look forward to reviewing the project in more detail and proactively collaborating with key stakeholders.”
Voices of Concern Raised
Not long after the announcement voices of concern were heard offering opinions of why the project had problems:
The major concern from politicians and general public alike was that the funding would include a toll similar to that levied on the Port Mann bridge. A number of politicians and commuters reiterated the claim that the tolling policy of the provincial government was unfair to the residents of the south Fraser region.
Former Surrey Mayor and MP for South Surrey-White Rock called the tolling policy ‘absolutely punitive.’ The Golden Ears bridge between Maple Ridge and Langley is tolled, the Port Mann is tolled, the new Pattullo Bridge will be tolled and this project will be tolled, leaving the Alex Fraser as the only toll-free Fraser crossing. As the Mayor of Surrey, Watts lobbied for a fair region-wide road pricing program for the whole region.
South Delta MLA Vicki Huntington expressed similar concerns that the tolling policies were unfair to the residents of Delta and the south of Fraser region. She claimed the government had not talked with the public about the project, calling on the provincial government to spread the costs evenly across the region.
Another complaint came from Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie complaining that a new bridge would only move the bottleneck from the current location to the Oak Street Bridge. The mayor of Vancouver also said that it would do more to hinder than help the region’s transportation issues.
Todd Stone responded to some of the criticism leveled at the project saying that most of the criticism leveled at the project has come from mayors who have received billions of dollars over the years in infrastructure investment. He told a radio station that Richmond had been the beneficiary of transit investments, citing the Canada Line, while turning the same critical comment toward Burnaby which has two SkyTrain lines running through it valued in the billions of dollars, adding that it’s time to focus on transportation south of the Fraser River.