The future of the provincial government’s project to replace the George Massey Tunnel with a new bridge is murky due to BC’s political uncertainty.
At a cost of $3.5 billion, it was one of the top priorities of Christy Clark’s BC Liberals and would be the most expensive piece of transportation infrastructure in the history of the province.
It involves not only a new 10-lane bridge but also a widening of Highway 99 over a 24-km-long stretch from the Oak Street Bridge to Delta and the construction of three new interchanges.
No major construction contract has been awarded at this time as this procurement phase is scheduled for completion this summer after a new government has formed. But pre-construction work has begun; site preparation began in April shortly after $17.3-million worth in pre-construction contracts were awarded.
However, with the BC NDP and BC Greens planning to work together to form a minority government later this month, the project is unlikely to go ahead.
During the election campaign, the two opposition party leaders said they were against the new bridge, and BC NDP leader John Horgan followed up on his position last month after the election by saying he would defer the project’s future on TransLink’s Mayors’ Council.
Both the BC NDP and BC Greens emphasized on improving and expanding transit infrastructure in their platforms in Metro Vancouver instead of building more road infrastructure, apart from the need to replace the aging Pattullo Bridge.
The Mayors’ Council has been highly vocal in their opposition to the project; only one regional mayor, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, is supportive.
Jackson says bus lanes are planned, the centre lanes are designed for future rail rapid transit, and the new crossing would reduce travel times by 30 minutes upon opening.
“We’ve heard from Canadian research that this is one of the largest bottlenecks in Canada and again people don’t recognize that or believe it,” she told Daily Hive.
“They seem to think there is no accommodation for transit, but there is and the Mayors don’t like to talk about that because they want any funding from the province to go towards Surrey’s light and Vancouver’s Broadway extension. So that’s why the mayors are not supporting this. The mayors do not want this bridge because they want it for their own projects. I asked Surrey specifically and they said they want the money for light rail.”
However, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has been sternly opposed to the project for how it would encourage more urban sprawl and increase automobile use. In lieu of a new bridge, he wants to see seismic upgrades performed on the existing tunnel and a twinned tunnel for both vehicles and rail transit constructed.
“One of my observations about traffic and the effect of traffic is this is going to bring traffic without lights or restrictions into Richmond, and it’s going to have a dramatic impact on the increased flow of traffic into the city. I’m not sure if that’s what we really want,” he said.
He added that the proposed tolls to fund the construction of the bridge would only shift congestion to the nearby untolled Alex Fraser Bridge. It would also shift the congestion issue further up to the Oak Street Bridge further up north along the highway.
According to the Ministry of Transportation, 80,000 vehicles and 10,000 transit passengers on buses use the existing tunnel on a daily basis.
Construction activity spurred from bridge construction and tunnel deconstruction is expected to create 9,000 direct jobs. If the project proceeds, major construction will begin later this year for a completion in 2022.