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Smaller Delta-Richmond bridge or another tunnel could be on horizon

Commuters will have to go through the George Massey Tunnel for several more years, and perhaps permanently.
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Commuters will have to go through the George Massey Tunnel for several more years, and perhaps permanently.

The province this morning had its long-awaited announcement regarding the future of the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project by Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, and consultant Stan Cowdell, confirming the bridge project won’t be moving ahead.

 Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said a review found there are better options for the region to address congestion at the George Massey Tunnel and the corridor. (Delta Optimist file photo)Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said a review found there are better options for the region to address congestion at the George Massey Tunnel and the corridor. (Delta Optimist file photo)

There will be interim upgrades to the existing tunnel and road system costing $40 million, money that will be “absolutely well spent” according to Trevena.

Cowdell began the joint announcement by summarizing his technical findings, noting a 10-lane bridge was not the best way to go, suggesting options could include a smaller six or eight lane bridge or an eight-lane tunnel. The existing tunnel could also remain as part of the future solution.

“The 10-lane Massey bridge project was pushed ahead without the input of communities,” said Trevena. “The technical review of the project has confirmed this was the wrong project for the region. We need a better solution for this crossing to get people out of traffic and home with their families.”

She noted the review found that 10-lane bridge did not fully address a number of key considerations, such as community alignment, livability and cost, which likely resulted in stakeholder concerns.

Last September, the new Green-backed NDP government suspended the $3.5-billion project which also involved a series of road and interchange improvements on both sides, just as it was about to be constructed with a completion date in 2022. The province then appointed Cowdell to lead an independent technical review. He was to undertake an assessment of the lifespan, safety and seismic vulnerability and current congestion of the existing tunnel, which opened in 1959, as well as review the technical assumptions and analysis for tunnel and bridge options.

Taking shots at the previous government, the minister promised to consult with regional mayors beginning next year before proceeding. There was no timeline given for a potential replacement, other than a business case on a preferred option will be ready by the fall of 2020.

“People are frustrated with the unacceptable congestion and bottleneck at the George Massey Tunnel and we understand that. Had the former government looked at the options fully and objectively, we wouldn’t be in this situation, but they did push ahead with a $3.5 billion mega project without listening to communities. We won’t make the same mistake,” she said.

She added the review confirmed the Liberal government project “was the wrong project for the region and flawed from the start.”

 In addition to tunnel improvements including new lighting, the province will begin scoping work for improvements to the Steveston interchange to reduce congestion along the corridor, as well as improvements on the Delta side of the traffic network.. Photograph By Gord GobleIn addition to tunnel improvements including new lighting, the province will begin scoping work for improvements to the Steveston interchange to reduce congestion along the corridor, as well as improvements on the Delta side of the traffic network.. Photograph By Gord Goble

Most of the mayors including Richmond’s Malcolm Brodie voiced opposition to the bridge project, which was under the province’s purview and not a TransLink asset. Since the project was suspended, the province took over the Pattullo Bridge replacement plan, which had been a TransLink asset, leaving Delta officials to wonder if or when something would be done about the current tunnel.

In an interview last week, Delta Mayor George Harvie, who was already resigned that the 10-lane bridge project was likely not moving forward, stressed the importance in having an improved transit system for the Highway 99 corridor. As far as another crossing, he suggested it could be a bridge, although not to the scale of the original project, adding it’s important that it not take up agricultural land and it accommodates rapid bus and future rapid transit in the centre two lanes.

He noted he’s already talked to several of the new members of the Mayors’ Council on transit and transportation about the corridor and its importance to the regional transportation network. Harvie added it’s good news the mayors now seem willing to discuss the corridor.