Massey Tunnel couldn’t withstand moderate to severe earthquake

Delta Optimist


Even if the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project is dead in the water, will a technical review find it’s worth keeping the George Massey Tunnel?

Vancouver Courier staff photo

One of the big questions that’s been debated since the Green-backed NDP government suspended the 10-lane bridge project last year is whether to keep the current tunnel as an alternative, including twinning the structure with another tunnel.

Now that reports have surfaced the bridge project has been cancelled, although the province has yet to confirm that, the debate will once again intensify.

According to the City of Delta, the current structure can’t be seismically upgraded to proper, current standards.

“Numerous studies undertaken over the last several decades have confirmed that the tunnel is not physically capable of withstanding a moderate to severe earthquake. The 629-metre long tunnel was constructed in the 1950s and opened in 1959, when seismic considerations were in their infancy, and no soil strengthening was undertaken prior to placement of the tunnel’s six concrete segments,” states a civic report which was submitted to the province.

The report notes that according to a 2004 study the tunnel is “a brittle structure in highly unstable/liquefiable soils.” Additionally, the study found that “analysis has shown that the tunnel structure is fairly certain to be damaged in the design seismic event with or without ground improvements.”

A separate study concluded “there is a possibility of loss of life if the tunnel experiences catastrophic displacements in a seismic event.”

A separate Delta report notes the tunnel has approximately 10 years left before major components such as lighting, ventilation and pumping systems need to be replaced and that it is also not feasible to upgrade it to modern seismic standards.

These are the types of issues that the independent technical review was expected to address.

Last November, the province announced it hired professional engineer Stan Cowdell to lead the review of the underwater crossing.

Cowdell is president of Westmar Project Advisors Inc. and has years of experience as an engineering consultant for public infrastructure projects.

“Cowdell’s firm is leading the review, with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure also recruiting additional expertise as needed to support his work in the fields of geotechnical, tunnel, bridge and road construction, traffic engineering and transportation planning,” the province explained at the time.

“The first task of the review will be to independently undertake a technical review of the lifespan, safety and seismic vulnerability and current congestion of the existing tunnel. As well, Cowdell will review the technical assumptions and analysis for the tunnel and bridge options. As part of this, he will review the technical information already produced for the project and challenge or verify the assumptions made out of that work. This assessment may identify the need for further technical work.”

That review has been completed a while ago and is in the hands of Transportation Minister Claire Trevena. The ministry says the findings will be made public by the end of this year.

On Friday the opposition Liberals continued to take shots at the government over the bridge project and technical review, saying that while it’s not surprising the NDP government won’t be proceeding with a 10-lane bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, Trevena is choosing to selectively share information with some parties and not others.

“We’ve been asking Minister Trevena to release the results of the Cowdell report for months, and officially confirm what we’ve known all along- that the bridge project is dead,” said Delta South MLA Ian Paton in a press release. “After stringing the public along for several months, she’s suddenly run to the City of Richmond with information she should be making available to everyone.”

“Let there be no doubt, the NDP cancelled the project months ago, and the Cowdell report was written to provide nothing more than political cover,” said Jas Johal, MLA for Richmond-Queensborough. “Thanks to NDP indifference to residents south of the Fraser, they’ve written off $100,000,000 in prep work and left six kilometres of sand on the side of Highway 99.”